Just Quit Already!
Day-by-Day through Year One of Retirement
Day 337. Wed June 1: Dabbling with social media and pissing away the day online can be a time suck (the term was coined for this context, not?), but I enjoy limited doses of brainlessness. Doesn’t everybody?
Every day when I get up my first task is checking out what’s happening on Facebook. Some people have hundreds or even thousands of friends. I’ve got about a hundred and a few of those I’ve had to hide their posts because they are too needy, or skeevy, or didactic, or aggressively conservative, or belligerently anti-establishment. Or – the worst transgression – commenting at tedious length. Others, people I barely knew in “real” life, turn out to be hilarious and insightful as Facebook friends. So that’s a good outcome. Also, Facebook has news you can use, as long as you don’t take it seriously. I’ve stopped reading “how to thrive at work” posts but I find myself poring over every word of the many listicles like “Best Places to Retire.” Apparently I’ve pretty much already got myself moved into assisted living.
Later in any day I will post my daily Instagram “Took A Walk, Saw This” photo at bartbartbecker – I’m doing it every day for a year. Today as I am walking down the hill – I haven’t even passed Saddleback Park – a neighbor, Warren, pulls alongside and asks if I want a ride. Sometimes this happens when I am out walking for pleasure. It’s considerate of my neighbors but I’m never sure if they think I’ve run out of gas or what. Anyway, not wishing to appear impolite — even though I don’t need a ride — I hop in and get a lift down to the South Bellevue Community Center with him, where he’s going to work out. Then I walk a half-mile along Newport Way over to Eastgate Elementary and back up the Squibbs Creek ravine trail I had been planning to take a round-trip on in the first place. So I get half of my workout – four miles – and a pleasant conversation with Warren. Win-win. My Instagram photo is a close-up of an old tree covered in moss. I post it on both Instagram and Facebook and it gets a bunch of likes.
And You Tube. Today I spent half an hour watching trailers for great music documentaries: Beware of Mister Baker, 20 Feet From Stardom, Muscle Shoals, the Wrecking Crew. Somebody posted the original, first ever, Popeye cartoon, so I watched that. I stumble across a long, long podcast interview with Van Morrison on Irish Times about his creative process. He’s quite open, which is a bit surprising since he is overall so inscrutable. And while it would be hard to say he’s genial (“a miserable git but a beautiful singer,” as Rod Stewart once described him; and in that book about the village of old Woodstock, “Small Town Talk,” there’s a whole chapter of people describing his singular grouchiness) in this interview he is quite expressive and willing to answer the questions. I’m not sure if Pandora counts as social media or something else; right now I’ve got an Olu Dara channel going: Kermit Ruffins, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Nina Simone, Hugh Masekela and Olu Dara himself (he’s Nas’s dad, but Pandora doesn’t offer up any Nas cuts in this mix) doing the super-sensual “Okra” and “Your Lips”.
I’ve done a few blogs or websites using WordPress or Blogspot and I’ve got vague plans to do a Bart Becker site, consolidating all of my interests and activities in one place. Someday. My Big List includes making videos of music from some of the bands I was in and posting to You Tube (I’ve posted a few things to You Tube in the past; it was pretty easy), or maybe figuring out Soundcloud or something.
For my downsizing, I’m counting on Nextdoor and Craigslist and I need to figure out how Ebay works. So far I have not felt any compulsion to do Twitter (it still exists, right?) or Snapchat, much less any of the platforms I haven’t even heard of yet.
Day 383, Thu June 2: I never answer the landline phone when it rings. What possible good could come of that? As Dorothy Parker said when her train of thought was interrupted by the ringing phone, “What fresh hell is this?” Just about the only calls that come in on that number are either from Enid’s mom or they are junk calls.
Luckily, though, Enid answers tonight when the phone rings. It’s Elena. Remember that mysteriously lost $3,600 property tax check from six weeks ago? When the mail carrier and I sifted through all the mail in the box by 31 Flavors without finding my check? The incident that rocked my sense of self? Elena found that check in the trunk of the car and tore it into little pieces.
Day 339, Fri June 3: One of my favorite blogs is the Bellevue Farmers Market blog by Christina Dudley. It used to be called Urban Farm Junkie. She writes – very entertainingly – about all sorts of food issues and most of the time brings it back to what they’re paying her for: to get people to shop at the market.
I try to eat healthy all the time and then every few months I step up and go on the Green Smoothie routine every morning for several weeks before I take a break for a while. I have added something even weirder for a two-week regimen in the middle of it: a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water every morning. Supposed to purify or detox the kidneys. The stuff tastes barely drinkable, even diluted that heavily. I can’t say I enjoy it but I’m pretty sure I would enjoy kidney stones less
I am not doctrinaire about my diet or any of my good-health habits – just habitual. And I can definitely slip and get cracked out on chips or cheese crackers. It doesn’t occur often, but it does happen once in a while.
Besides general health, I think this – along with my exercise regime — may have the additional benefit of helping me lose weight. My problem for verifying this hypothesis, though, — as I’ve mentioned before — is that I don’t have a scale that I trust. No matter what I do, every time I step on mine it shows the exact same weight. It’s like a gag scale from the back of a comic book. Next time I’m at Bed Bath and Beyond I’ll have to step on one there to sort this out.
But judging by the way my clothes fit, something is going on. I have an apparently shrinking waist size. My everyday shorts were sagging down my butt in the underwear-revealing way that teens used to wear their pants for a while20 years ago. Since then I’ve reset the button on my shorts, resewed it to pull in the waist an inch or so. Before I worked my tailoring magic, though, I was always having to tug them up. Sometimes, when I was out walking and wanted to be hands-free, shortswise, I would tuck in my T-shirt so they’d fit tighter. Yes, T-shirt tucked into shorts. An engineering solution that was functional, it cannot be denied, but not a good look, even for a pants engineer. And I know I’ve said elsewhere I don’t care that much about how I look, but that was too much.
Day 340, Sat June 4: A sense of place is important, but can you go home again? I have a solid emotional connection to Nebraska – at least to the sweet Nebraska of my youth. Having the ethnic heritage of being Nebraskan-American is a source of pride and identity for me. I have a super-strong sense about where I am from (but that no longer seems like “home” – Seattle does). Partly because it’s so isolated and I know that people from the outside have all sorts of preconceptions. Most are wrong, but the ones about how remote it is are pretty close. When I was growing up we had the same TV shows and heard the same music on the radio as everybody else, but it was still the middle of nowhere. A childhood in Nebraska wasn’t exactly like Ulan Bator, but close enough.
I have fond memories of my entire life there: as a kid in Schuyler up to age 18 when I left; as a college student in Lincoln and a young working adult up to age 35. when I left.
I’ve barely kept in very light touch over the years. I should do better at that. For a long time I would always get the booklet from our class reunions that told what everybody was up to, and I would submit a few sentences myself. So I maintained the relationship with my schoolmates at that distance. In the recent decades the internet made it easier to snoop on old classmates and friends, so I’ve done that the same way everybody has. Mostly these are regular lives. Sometimes I’ve found that a friend has been super successful at some endeavor. Sometimes it goes the other way and a guy you knew back in Schuyler – you detasseled corn or played American Legion baseball with him – that guy gets into some mischief and does a few years in the state pen.
And Facebook has been outstanding as a way to reconnect without getting too close. I’m not sure why I’ve been a little reluctant to reengage more fully; I guess that would take therapy that I don’t have time for.
When I left Schuyler I didn’t feel like I was desperate to get out. It wasn’t that dramatic, it was more matter-of-fact. And, anyway, I went to college in Lincoln, an hour from home, and then worked there for a decade before really lighting out for the territory. This is different from my older sister, Monica, who I gather had a more deliberate strategy in mind to get the hell out of there when she graduated high school (but who, interestingly, is much more connected than me in maintaining the friendships from her girlish days). She made me laugh when she said, “When I left Schuyler for Chicago in 1965 I thought I was really going somewhere. Ten years later I realized I was still in the Midwest.”
I don’t want to move back (not just because of my emotional ambivalence; I’m still traumatized by the subarctic winters and brutally searing summers – those two weeks in April and October are nice, though) but there is an irresistible pull back Home. I don’t feel like I even talk about the Old Country all that often but when I do it must be with real emotion because my daughter Elena identifies. She wants to visit, so maybe we will do that this fall: see our nieces and cousins in Omaha, drive through the pretty fall countryside, check out Schuyler, drop in at the legendary Zoo Bar, and experience the spectacle of a Big Red football game.
I have a friend, AJ, from our college journalism days who, after a successful career all over, moved back to the farm. As best I can tell, they are doing a small farming operation and a large gardening setup. She wrote a terrific kids’ book called “Eliza The Pig.” It’s an entertainment and a parable. Unlike her, I am far away both in years and miles. And I am sentimental. So when the first chapter of “Eliza The Pig” describes “There were no oceans within hundreds of miles of the farm, but when the wind was blowing, if you went out to where the grass was tall, it looked like a huge lake with waves of swaying green” it is so true that I start crying.
Day 341, Sun June 5: It’s already hot at 9am, around 70 degrees and heading for 90. We ate breakfast – Joe’s O’s with blueberries – sitting out on the back deck. I fixed the garden gate that has been out of plumb for years; when shut it left a one-inch gap that you had to block by jamming a piece of lath in there to keep out the critters. My fix is not elegant. I had to do it with extremely rough carpentry and shimming a quarter-inch off an edge of the gate with a chisel. I reset the hook-and-eye hardware and put a handle on there. And now it closes. If you haul on it hard enough. Or if you kick it at the bottom.
We had planned to do some blackberry eradication when Enid gets back from yoga. The blackberries do give us excellent juicy berries in July, but they are out of control by a factor of ten, sprawling all over the far back yard with thorny canes as thick as broom handles. The problem is this (well, there are a lot of problems, but this is one): doing battle with them requires long sleeves and long pants. I’m wearing tan shorts and a Seahawks T-shirt. So maybe there will be a better, cooler, day for the blackberry encounter.
Today’s weather might suggest a different activity. The studio is a little more comfortable, temperature-wise, so Enid paints for a few hours and I organize the wrapping paper and ribbon that we store in the hallway.
At four – instead of battling blackberries — we load a backpack with a bottle of wine, plastic cups and a bag of corn chips, peanuts and almonds. I find my green striped swim trunks right where I left them last year on the closet shelf under my stack of jeans. We walk two blocks to the neighborhood pool. It’s buzzing with activity, about 20 people, which is a lot for our little swimming hole. It’s an all-ages activity. The water’s fine. We swim a little, tread water hanging onto pool noodles for a while and get out to lounge on pool chairs. By 5:45 we are the last ones left and we head home for dinner. This whole day was a good idea, well executed.
Day 342, Mon June 6: Sports, right? It’s good to live an active life and all that. Plus, you learn all kinds of life lessons about getting knocked on your ass and getting up again, about how it’s not a meritocracy or fair so sometimes you’re going to get screwed out of what is rightfully yours, about how hard work sometimes does pay off and you get better, about how it ain’t over til it’s over, about how every success starts with a failure. About how there’s little to gain by feeling sorry for yourself; the field doesn’t care about your feelings. If you’re getting beat, get better. And, then — lessons aside — playing sports is fun.
Let’s take for granted that I have done all the usual stuff a few times that everybody does: bike riding, archery, bowling, ping pong – but those things – for me — are more like fun recreation or maybe drunk activities. Not sports, not the way I have done them. Nowadays, as I have reported ad infinitum, my physical activity is reduced to a long walk. I might go swimming and splash around or play swimming pool basketball. When we are at the cabin it doesn’t take that much to convince me to take out a kayak. But these are recreational activities, not competitions where I push my body to its limits. And those limits are reached pretty quickly. My body’s shot so I can’t play real basketball, but I could go to a court right now and compete with a lot of pros in a free-throw-shooting contest. Geez, listen to me. Where does this come from, this need to still be blustering about my physical prowess at age 65? Let me tell you.
• Baseball: I did all the usual running and jumping and hanging from jungle-gyms that little kids do. I’ve got scars from stitches to prove it, from my head to my shins. Then I started in official organized sports at age 9: Little League baseball. In Schuyler you played Pee Wees until you were 12 or so. One year my team, the Cardinals, won the championship: me, Bob Houfek, Jim White, Joe Brown, Galen Kehrli and a bunch of little kids. I will tell you this one truth: whenever they are keeping score it is a good feeling to be the last team standing. I don’t care if it’s Pee Wees or the Super Bowl. There are going to be plenty of years when you come in second or fourth or last, so there’s no reason to be coy with yourself about the times you dominated and claimed the hardware. I played catcher on that team because I was one of the older kids and could catch the pitch at least part of the time. It was weekday mornings. We didn’t have uniforms, just jeans and T-shirts. Besides Pee Wees, we had endless games of non-organized ball. Terry Ferguson and I would play game after game of whiffle ball in my front yard, the grass worn away to raw dirt: a ball hit onto the porch roof down the short third base line or over the deep straightaway center field fence into the Kracl’s yard was a home run. We also used to play Home Run Derby behind Jerry Zelenda’s house, in an empty lot that was in the middle of the block like a donut hole. Sometimes a few of us – never full teams — would go into the actual baseball park where the town team played. We hit from home plate and had ghost runners and a fly ball that made it to the outfield grass counted as a grand slam. (When the Schuyler Merchants played we could shag foul balls that went over the grandstand and out into the parking lot and turn them in for a quarter apiece.) Then, when you aged out of Little League you moved up to Pony League – under the thumb of Coach Torczon, the high-school basketball coach then — and played against teams from other towns. I mostly played infield and sometimes outfield. We didn’t have baseball as a high school sport so we played Junior Legion and then American Legion in the summer. I dropped out after one year of American Legion. I couldn’t hit and I was afraid of the ball on grounders.
• Tennis: Schuyler had a two-court tennis courts right by the swimming pool, golf course and Little League fields, just beyond the ball park and the high school football field. A guy in town named Quentin Enochson started up lessons for adolescent youths and a bunch of us participated. It gave me a good start in tennis and I kept playing regularly for fun well into my later 30s. Even today I will go up and knock it back and forth with Elena; I do OK if I don’t have to run more than a step or two, and if she hits it straight to me so I don’t have to move side-to-side. Our tennis club in Schuyler was competitive among ourselves and then we’d go to Omaha for tournaments and get annihilated 6-0 6-0. I won the local club boys’ championship one year when I was 13. I still have that trophy in a box somewhere; the little tennis-playing figure broke off long ago but I have the base with the plaque on it. I also have a picture from the Schuyler Sun of all the champs from that year, me and four older girls. They tower over me.
• Swimming: When I was growing up our house at 301 West 4th Street was the last house at that edge of town. Just on the other side of the fence along our driveway was the high school parking lot. Behind our back fence was the left-field foul pole of the baseball field and the football field and track. Beyond that, a long block or so away, the tennis courts, swimming pool and then the golf course. The pool opened at two o’clock and every day of summer a roaming pack of urchins would be there waiting for the doors to swing apart. We were the kind of kids whose entire summer wardrobe was a swim suit. No shirts necessary. Stay until supper time. We’d splash around and get yelled at by the lifeguards. Once you could swim across the pool width you could go beyond the rope into the deep end. Once I hit my head on the low board doing a cutaway and had to be taken to the doctor for stitches. I don’t swim much anymore but once in a while – not often — out at Hood Canal or here at our neighborhood pool, I will take a dip and tread water and swim a few strokes and breast stroke around out there.
• Golf: In Schuyler they would let kids play the municipal nine-hole course for free during the day as long as you didn’t get in the way of any paying members. I had a slender golf bag with two woods, four irons and a putter. The third hole was a short Par 3, about a hundred yards. There were a couple of muddy little streams between the tee and the green. Even a kid could clear them with a five iron, but lots of drives found water. That was where we got all of our golf balls, wading in there chest deep, finding balls with our toes, dipping down and grabbing them out. I really haven’t played as an adult; it’s just not where I want to put my recreational money and time.
• Football: Of course I played pickup sandlot games as a kid (my hero was Johnny Unitas; I Magic-Markered number 19 on my sweatshirt), at the football field or the big lot behind St. Augustine’s Catholic Church. I played slotback and defensive end on our freshman team, and on the JV squad as a sophomore. It wasn’t going anywhere and the varsity coach had a personality disorder, so I dropped it.
• Basketball: You start out shooting on driveway hoops in all kinds of weather, shoveling off the January snow when necessary. Robert Qualsett and Jerry Kracl’s houses had good courts. It wouldn’t surprise me if I played a couple of hundred one-on-one games against John Krivohlavek at his place; battling against him I developed a patented head-fake to move the defender and baseline jumper that was money for me. In sixth grade the high school coaches ran a Saturday morning league for our first exposure to organized play. Those were the kind of games that end up 6-4. Then, once you are in junior high, you lean into the real competition and you start learning about how to play the right way and what it takes to excel. I made varsity as a sophomore and we had high expectations for ourselves. There weren’t year-round elite teams like exist now but we played a lot in the summers (Coach Muma would open up the gym and leave us alone) and at all times of the year we would sneak into the junior high gym for a run. The Schuyler Warriors name was not an issue back in those days in the way it might be today. There was starting to be awareness of injustice to Indians as part of the overall civil rights zeitgeist – the American Indian Movement was in motion — but the notion of sports mascots being insensitive to Native Americans was not in the picture at the time. Also, we did not have a mascot or any depiction of a chief – much less any kind of grinning Chief Wahoo caricature. We did have a hatchet dripping blood on the side of our basketball shorts one year. We were really good in my three years of high school. My sophomore year we were 18-3 and state runners-up (there’s a newspaper picture of the post-championship-game awards ceremony and our whole team is staring glumly off to the right, away from the big second-place trophy that is sitting by itself on the floor – nobody wants to even look at it, much less hold it). When I was a junior we went 22-1 and we were state champs. That trophy we all wanted to touch. My senior year we rang up a 19-2 record and got bounced from the state tournament in overtime by Fremont Bishop Fucking Bergan, a team that also used to kick our ass in junior high (which was not that remarkable since everybody pounded us in junior high; we didn’t get good until a few years later). In that tournament game Bergan shot 50 free throws and we shot 18. We lost by four points. It’s healthy to carry around resentment over the outcome of game like this for 50 years, right? Just sayin’, Fremont Bergan, do you really want a win that comes packaged like that? I kept playing hard until I was 35: noontime games at the Y, outdoor games on driveways and park courts, pickup games with Cornhusker football players in the old Fieldhouse. Once our state champs team played a 10-year-reunion exhibition back in Schuyler and when I scored from the baseline I heard my name barked from the bench; John Krivohlavek was smiling and miming my head-fake, the same unstoppable move he’d seen produce baskets hundreds of times since we were 10-year-olds. It made him laugh, and he made me laugh. Another year when I was about 30, our Journal-Star team had way more journalism talent than basketball juice and yet, somehow, we made a satisfying run through the city league tournament. As a parent, I enjoyed helping coach Elena’s grade-school team, the Electric Gumballs, who made it to the semifinals of the City Fifth Grade Tournament. For myself, I’ve honestly never been in a basketball game in my life – whatever the talent level around me on the court – when I felt like I couldn’t handle it. Sometimes I could control the game. You know that thing that athletes talk about, when they are in the zone, at the peak of their athletic powers and mental acumen, and everything slows down. When they can see a few seconds into the future so they perceive what will happen before it happens, and nothing can stop them, and everything goes right. That’s a real thing. Now my knees are shot because of it and that is the smallest price possible to pay for the hours of pleasure and the memories of Glory Days.
• Running, Track, Cross Country: I was always fast enough to be good at sports, but never fast enough to be good in a flat-out track meet sense. I would come home from the Sixth Grade Track Meet with a bunch of green, yellow and white ribbons and one blue one for the 4×100 relay. In high school, after I dropped out of football, my final two years I ran cross-country in the fall to stay in shape for basketball. I liked it even if I wasn’t any good. As an adult I enjoyed distance running and jogging to stay in shape for more than 30 years until I hit 55 and my knees couldn’t take the pounding any more. Speed is a valuable commodity in any sport, but not necessarily straight-ahead speed unless it’s really special champion sprinter pace. Most sports are played in a series of five-yard boxes, change of pace and direction. It’s rare that you will ever sprint even 40 yards in a straight line. It’s more about quickness and anticipation. For that, I was fine: more than quick enough from here to there.
• Squash: When I worked for the Seattle Weekly in the late Eighties one of our perks was membership in the Seattle Club a few blocks away. They had squash courts and a bunch of people played, so I started playing, too. It’s one of the greatest games I’ve ever done and I got good enough that I was competitive with the level of opponents I was up against. It’s a grueling workout that leaves you soaked and exhausted. I would often put up a good battle only to lose the day against slightly better players, which made every victory over those slightly better players all the sweeter.
• Kayaking: We have recreational kayaks at our cabin and we like to drop them into Hood Canal and paddle off. This seems like something I can do for a few more years.
• Lacrosse: Elena is the player here, not me; she’s played on great teams from middle school to her accomplishments as a Division 3 varsity athlete. She’s accumulated a wall full of individual accolades, honors and records. I just had to pick up enough lax skill to fill the dad role. When Elena first started, in seventh grade, I would go out with a baseball glove and play catch with her so she could work on her stick skills. Eventually I started using her backup stick and developed the kind of skill you would associate with a seventh-grade beginner. I can catch it if she throws it right to me and I can make a usually-accurate throw back.
Day 343, Tue June 7: Once again I thought about whacking away at the blackberry jungle in our back yard. Considering the relationship of discretion to valor, instead I took a six-mile walk, to the library to pick up four books and then continued on down to Eastgate to mail four letters at the mailbox by 31 Flavors.
Enid is out for an event so for supper I ate all the leftovers I could find while watching the U.S. pound Costa Rica in Copa America. Cold chicken, salad, white wine, cheese crunchies.
Day 344, Wed June 8: I’m not gonna lie: I’m not remotely going stir crazy in retirement so I’m not looking for “things to do.” But if I see an event that looks like fun – and is free (though I spent money to go to the M’s game the other night, but that was different, there was friendship involved) – I’ll go. So I’m on alert for summertime concerts by Beatles impersonators in public squares. Shakespeare in the Park. Gardening workshops. Farmers markets and street fairs and sheep-shearing demonstrations at the Kelsey Creek petting zoo. Retirement life is all about drinking from a full chalice.
Day 345, Thu June 9: Smoothie for breakfast. Open-face fried-egg and turkey-ham sandwich for lunch. I did my afternoon walk on the neighborhood perimeter trail. I took along a red-handled clippers to do a preemptive trimming on growth that was impinging into the path. It was busy out there. I bumped into a neighbor, Marc, described my daily walk routine and found that he does something similar. Except he maps all of his on an app while I just write mine down on a piece of paper. He pulled out his phone and we huddled over it and traded tips about good hiking locations. While we were conferring, another neighbor, Doug, jogged by. And a third, Phil, appeared out of a side trail, walking his dog. I guess if you want to get social with your neighbors the way to do it is to walk on an isolated footpath behind the houses.
For dinner, fried rice with the leftovers from yesterday.
Day 346, Fri June 10: Bellevue has a lot of what makes a city great. Namely, greenery. There are forests and wetlands that have been preserved right in the city. Plus, the town is crossed by winding arterial streets – Newport Way, BelRed Road, The Connector — that are clearly the vestigial remains of old-time farm roads and maybe deer paths before that. They get you across town everywhere except right downtown where there is a conventional grid. In a few spots, you can’t get there from here — this is true in Seattle, too — even if you can see your destination.
You’ll be happily motoring along on Main Street in East Bellevue, listening to sports talk and headed for downtown, when all of a sudden you bump into a dead end somewhere near Sammamish High School. Either the topography or the wisdom of traffic engineers has intervened and you will have to take the long way around via Northeast Eighth until you get back onto Main in the downtown core.
Until the 1960s Bellevue was an outlying rural village of a few thousand people, and Seattle itself wasn’t all that. Now Bellevue is a mid-sized city of 140,000, just 10 minutes from Seattle across the I-90 bridge. Seattle has seen huge population growth, especially in the past few years, and is around 685,000 now. The metro area (Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma-Everett) is a little under four million. Urban. Luckily, Bellevue was late to the growth game so it retains remnants of its past. Besides its meandering arterials, Bellevue has various hills, forests, ravines and streams that streets and developments have to dodge around.
This is different from my home state of Nebraska, which is both pretty flat and entirely laid out on straight geometric mile grids. When Enid first visited out there with me 30 summers ago we were driving the hour from Lincoln to Schuyler. I had taken a cross-country shortcut I still remembered, and we had gone from the highway onto gravel roads. It’s the Bohemian Alps, so there was a pleasing up-and-down grade to the roads and pretty farm fields but not much else. We drove quite a while until we were coming up on David City and she expressed some curiosity. “Is it ever going to curve?” she asked. Nope.
On that trip, when we got to Schuyler and walked in the front door, she told me later, she found it hysterical that my aunties greeted me with “Barty” and “Barty’s here”. I didn’t understand how this was remarkable, much less amusing; what else would they call me except what they’d been calling me all my life. This was the same trip that held an even more fantastical revelation for her. We were all sitting on kitchen chairs out on the front lawn at dusk, watching cars drive by, when the fireflies started blinking in the gloaming. It blew her mind. She had always assumed they were creations in children’s books, not a real thing.
When we were ready to head home we decided to return the rental car in Denver rather than Omaha, and we drove across Nebraska on two-lane Highway 30 instead of the interstate. Took us three or four days instead of one pedal-to-the metal dash. Got up in the morning, drove along at 50 miles an hour, saw almost no traffic except for farm vehicles, stopped in some hamlet around noon and ate lunch (a lot of times the only café was the bar), drove a few more hours and then started looking for a town with a motel for the night. At that speed and off the freeway, you really got a closer touch to the land; it wasn’t quite walking or biking, but it was closer. We stopped one time and just stood in the ditch, surrounded by chest high grass waving in the sunlight. We visited the Badlands monument and then got slightly lost for an hour when we departed out a back gate instead of the front entrance, and found ourselves driving for miles and miles on a lane through unfenced pastureland. At Sidney, we saw the sign for “Carhenge, 80 miles” and did not need any more convincing to take the turnoff towards Alliance. It was a great, leisurely driving vacation. In retirement, I am not inclined to look for activities or vacation destinations but I would have less resistance to the idea of going to Eastern Washington or the Arizona desert and driving around for a week, staying in motels, getting out once in a while to stand in the ditch.
Meanwhile, it bears repeating that while Bellevue has become a real city with skyscrapers and all the inferiority-complex striving that comes with being Little Brother to Seattle, it has done a great job of maintaining its parks and green spaces and wetlands. Even if it doesn’t hold up to comparison with a front yard in Schuyler at dusk.
Day 347, Sat June 11: Enid’s friend Jessica came over bearing a tray of fresh blueberries and we had waffles and cantaloupe-blueberry mix for breakfast, and then sat around drinking coffee and gabbing for a few hours. I spent a lot of time talking about the fascinating book “Notebooks of the Mind” by Vera John-Steiner and everybody is really taken with my description and enthusiasm. It’s about how creative thinkers think, how they imagine solutions to challenges (do they think in words or pictures, for example? And what explains the sudden emergence of geniuses like Mozart or Einstein?). Except that I remember the title as “Roadmaps of the Mind” and the author as Edna John, or maybe Eleanor. No amount of googling finds it (until tomorrow, when my refuse-to-lose doggedness finally turns it up).
My plans for the day comprised running errands and the women were ready for the adventure. First, Walgreen’s to pick up some photo prints. I’ve been getting prints made as part of my decluttering and getting organized (I know it sounds counterintuitive but it makes sense in my brain – to me I will not be creating even more clutter with the hundreds of prints, I will instead be better organized because I will know where to find them [in albums or loose in a shoebox, where pictures belong – and that is also a more fun way to look at them than scrolling through legions of jpgs in a file folder]). Good plan except that today the prints aren’t there because when I was ordering them I apparently failed to hit the final “submit” from my cart. Oh, well, these things happen.
Next stop is the bank to deposit two checks at the ATM and get spending cash. Then on to the Sports Authority at Crossroads, a store where I have bought a lot of athletic gear over the years. Sports Authority is going out of business and closing all of their locations so everything is half-off or better. I want to shop for new Asics runners and regular cargo shorts to tune up my wardrobe. It’s a washout on the shoes – the men’s section is picked over – but I find two good pairs of shorts that fit, one tan and one gray. Enid buys new running shoes and a yoga shirt and Jessica scores running shoes and a bag of golf tees. A successful bargain-shopping spree.
It’s early afternoon by now so we walk across the street to Spiced, an unprepossessing storefront Chinese café with unmatched food. I order noodle soup and Enid and Jessica get sautéed vegetables and spicy garlic eggplant to share. They serve my big bowl of soup with a ladle in it but no other silverware. I ask for advice from my tablemates on how to eat it but get only nervous laughter in return. I consider lowering my head and slurping straight from the bowl but manners get the better of me and I instead ask for a fork and a regular soup spoon. We finish off the afternoon by driving to the Kirkland Park & Ride and walking eight flat miles on the Cross Kirkland Corridor, from that trailhead to the Google campus and back. It’s warm but overcast and we have a good hike, lively conversation, convivial company. In the evening after Jessica takes off, Enid finishes reading her book-club book and I watch a replay of a great Mariners’ win over the Astros, a 1-0 pitchers’ duel.
Dinner: garden-vegetable sandwiches with aioli and hummus spread, feta slaw and, for dessert, nectarines and blueberries.
Day 348, Sun June 12: Old people can spend days writing up suggestions on Facebook about how to put the world back the way it was. These can cover a lot of ground but may very well include replacing, say, Miley Cyrus or rappers with “real” musicians. They are thinking of real musicians like Englebert Humperdinck and Michael Bolton I suppose.
It’s always clear (though maybe not to the perpetrators themselves) that these old people don’t know that 1) Miley Cyrus (or whichever contemporary artist is being slagged) is actually a really good musician – because they haven’t actually listened to her and couldn’t identify a Miley Cyrus song if you played 10 of them, and 2) the point is moot because Miley Cyrus herself (or whichever artist) is getting a little too old to be a pop star anymore and is probably nearing her sell-by date. To the crabby old people, though, a phenomenon from two decades in the past is still new (and, therefore, bad) because it is not from four or five decades past. And don’t let them get started on the flaws in contemporary country music, you’ll be stuck listening to them until your beer is warm.
I’m from the time when music mattered, so I empathize with the tendency for old-timers to defend their era. And I definitely love all the old music I always loved. The first record I bought was the Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs’ 45 “Sugar Shack.” I still like that song. But I just cannot get with the “music these days stinks” crowd. Of course it’s true that I’m not the target audience for much contemporary music and it is not going to be age appropriate. That’s obvious. But I still like to troll the new music to see what sticks to me. This is one reason I listen to both new music and old. Still, I do have a question.
The Beatles were a really good band, right? And influential? Why then, for all the shitty oldies radio stations I listen to, why can I never hear a Beatles song? 95.7 The Jet will give me more Billy Joel, Pat Benatar and Elton John than I can handle on a daily basis. Want to hear “Don’t Stop Believin”? Suffering from a “Hotel California” deficit? Stay tuned, it’s coming right up. Just when it really sucks, The Jet lobs in “Billy Jean” or “Brick House” to keep you listening. Over on KIXI 880 (“as cool now as it was then”) I can hear Vic Damone and Doris Day. The other day they played Louie Prima Junior(!!) singing a perfect remake of “Banana Split for My Baby” (perfect except for the talent part – that was missing) but not the actual Louis Prima. And, as with “Brick House” on The Jet, once in a while on KIXI you hear something great: Tom Jones’ “What’s New Pussycat,” Gene Pitney’s “Town Without Pity,” Dusty Springfield’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’”. It’s like they happen by accident; they fit the KIXI formula (whatever that is) and yet, counterintuitively, they are fabulous. (And I know you are wondering what the heck I am even doing listening to these stations; I have no defense.) It’s a good thing all my elderly friends on Facebook keep posting doo-wop and Sixties one-hit-wonders and soul obscurities and rockabilly wildmen. I need to keep my nostalgic memories alive like anybody else
Day 349, Mon June 13: I had planned to sign us up for a free “Walk, Talk & Taste” guided tour of PCC Market, the natural food co-op where we like to shop. You have to register just like you do for the cooking classes.
It required me to create an account. So far, so good. I did the steps and hit “Sign In.” It did not recognize the user name and password I had created just the minute before. No big problem. I clicked the box that said I needed to change my info. They emailed me the link and I clicked back in to the “Change Password” page. A little irritating now, but I’m willing to stick with it to get signed up for an event that sounds like it will be mildly fun and lightly educational. I enter my info – a fake username, a simple password, a real email that I use only for stuff like this and a fake phone number. It was turning hassleish but I’m a person with a lot of emotional resources. I could handle it.
It declined my password as being only “medium” strength. “Try punctuation” it advised. I guess that was my tipping point because of trying punctuation I bailed. When I started ranting about this later to Enid, she empathized, then trumped me with her experience yesterday of trying to post a review on Trip Advisor which kept demanding that she enter various passwords, for her Facebook or Google accounts – like a normal person would know those. Let me also interject that I have a piece of paper taped right here on the wall by my desk that has 34 different accounts I have, with the associated username and password for logging in – many are the same password (the “medium” strength one that wasn’t special enough for PCC) but not all — and I do not feel like I am even a heavy online account user. At all. 34 passwords! And I assume that Enid probably has the same number or more. Apparently, Trip Advisor – in all other ways a rational service — thinks a customer should have them memorized.
But enough about her. Let’s get back to me and PCC. First, if I want to have a vulnerable password like 1234, that’s my risk. Thank you, PCC, for pointing it out – and I mean that seriously, not ironically — but not for stonewalling me on my choice. Second, I’m only creating this account to sign up for your stupid Walk, Talk & Taste class. And here’s the deal: if the registration had actually worked instead of getting snafued, I wouldn’t have thought twice about providing an email and a password. I don’t mind PCC collecting my info; I understand that they want to know who is taking the classes. I assume that they know that I didn’t even give them any real personal information except for my real name. And since I go into the store to shop, I’m never going to buy anything online from PCC, where I might enter a credit card number. Third, you’re A FUCKING GROCERY STORE! What kind of information needs to be kept secure? How much I paid for turkey jerky?
I was so peeved by this bollixed process that I didn’t just throw away the flyer with the Walk, Talk & Taste store-tour offer, I tore it up into little bits before I crammed it in the recycling.
Day 350, Tue June 14: One year ago today I handed in my two-week notice at work, a three-sentence email to my immediate boss and a copy to Human Resources. I finished up my final “What To Do Two Weeks Before You Retire” list and was gone. I had also done my best all that spring to check off the items on the “Two Months Before You Retire” and for quite a while before that, was powering through the tasks on “Two Years Before You Retire.” There’s even a book out there on Five Years Before Retirement and I would have looked into it if I had been thinking that far ahead and known about the book at the time.
Again, there’s a ton of books and blogs and posts about retirement. Most are about getting set financially. A few are also about the other aspects for retirement happiness. Some even promise to explain social security. They all say a version of the same thing and, obviously, I agree: a planned retirement is a happy retirement. Otherwise it’s simply being shoved into the deep end with a half-hearted “Good luck, text us when you get there.”
This is another way that life is like sports and the maxims of athletics can apply: for success, over-prepare, then go with the flow.
Enid came home all wound up from something happening at work – maybe just the natural tension of finishing up her school year. I solved that. Instead of doing things, we took a half-glass of chardonnay each, sat on a rickety backless yellow bench we have on the studio patio, leaned against the outside wall, looked out beyond the patch of grass and wildflowers, the madrona tree on the neighbor’s lot, over Mercer Island in the near distance, all the way 10 miles to the Seattle skyline in the westerly far vista. The sun was shining on our faces.
For dinner I sautéed ground chicken meatballs (sprinkled with turmeric and fajita seasoning); thawed out a jar of tomato sauce that I made and froze last summer and dumped that in with the meatballs; cooked quinoa fusilli and plopped that in the big frying pan, too. Complemented with salad made from garden lettuce, garden snap peas, carrots, celery, red bell pepper. For dessert, a slice of almond cake that Enid made over the weekend, drenched in unwhipped whipping cream poured over it.
Day 351, Wed June 15: I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure I’m still rocking a version of The 12 Habits of Productive People. I’m just doing it Retirement Style.
After working for so long, that discipline is baked into me: get up, have coffee, get busy. Do some things. That’s what I do. That’s the way I roll. For me, at least, it didn’t just switch off the day I retired.
Still, there is definitely downshifting involved to find the right pace. And while every pensioner wants to have some kind of productive activity available to them, there is plenty of reality to the smokescreen that emeritus life is just lazy days of idling and – when that becomes too purposeful – switching tactics and goofing off for a while. Interrupted by half-assed attempts to do a few chores. Once you’ve wrapped up your career, it becomes more clear than ever that only a few things really matter. And very few are the things that mattered while you were working.
So if I have given the impression that retirement is a never-ending series of to-do lists and minor errands, but with an overall demeanor of languor (and, for many of these tasks, unapologetic apathy rather than earnest dedication is probably the right attitude to keep balance in your retired life), that is accurate enough. And who says life’s a struggle? The man had it right: it’s five o’clock somewhere.
Day 352, Thu June 16: Enid has 30 colleagues over for an end-of-year potluck. What had initially looked like a cold and rainy day has turned into a sunny one. I talk to a few of them that I know but once it starts to fill up, I make myself scarce and sequester in the office. Some of them, exploring the house, get back this far, but most stick to the dining room, living room, decks. They all seem to be in a good, relaxed mood; there are only a couple of days of school left, so you can imagine that they are feeling free. Lots of shop talk. I sneak in for a plate of dinner and, after the last raucous party-closers have departed, for a few snacks from what is left behind. A lot of it is party-platter food from the grocery store, some is straight up junk food and some is tasty food that somebody actually made at home. One genius teacher – probably knowing her colleagues all too well — brought a bottle of peach whiskey and it is left behind still about half-full. I’ll have to try it.
Day 353, Fri June 17: Today is supposed to be the first neighborhood Friday Night Potluck of the summer, if it it’s not raining at 6:30. That is a dicey proposition since it is clouded over. Everybody tries to make it to the first potluck, so it is usually a jam-packed and lively community builder. For the rest of the summer, every Friday night is an open call for people to bring a dish up to the playfield picnic area but these are not as well attended. People are busy with other activities and some have a limit to how much they can handle mingling with their neighbors. For others, it’s an immovable appointment; they will be there every week with their salad or pasta or cheese plate, happy to be a strand that weaves the social fabric. This year’s theme for the kickoff potluck is “All American,” so Enid is making feta slaw as a takeoff on the traditional picnic coleslaw.
As it turns out, it is too rainy to do this outdoors so it is instead held at Phil and Margaret’s house. Modest attendance, but still fun.
Day 354, Sat June 18: I like to lie down and read.
The living room couch is fine and comfy. I spend many quality hours there. But I especially like to quietly escape down the basement to the bedroom. I stretch out on top of the comforter (is this what they call the duvet?) and turn on both the bedside lamp and the overhead light, and pile up a couple of pillows, and just chillax. Is that the expression? A lot of times Nadia will figure out what’s going on and come sleep on my belly or just butt in for some head rubs. I totally get how Proust booked that three-year bed-stay and wrote a novel in his waking moments.
Now I have the liberty to lie down and read any time of the day I want to, which I never could do at any job I ever had. One place I worked for some government agency – I just can’t remember which right now – had an “Employee Recovery Room.” You could go in there if you weren’t feeling well and stretch out on a couch in a quiet dark room until you perked up. Heh. That lasted until the upper management figured out what was going on.
But I don’t need to be under the weather. I can be feeling great and still lie down for an hour in the early afternoon and come out of it feeling even better. That’s what I do today. So that is definitely way high on the list of big advantages that retirement has over working.
Later, Enid and I each have checks to deposit and both, for different reasons, have to be done at the bank, not through our phones. Plus I need to mail a letter. These are things we can take care of at Factoria Marketplace. Another thing we can take care of there is to eat a late lunch at Goldberg’s Famous, the popular Jewish deli. Goldberg’s serves pickles as appetizers, the way a Mexican restaurant will bring out chips and salsa, so that’s always a good start. This is only one of the things we like about this place. Another is that it is totally family-friendly so every other table has a toddler, which makes for entertaining people watching. A third attraction is that the staff wears T-shirts that say “What Are We, Chopped Liver?” I have a turkey breast half-sandwich on rye, baked beans and an order of fries. Enid has a chicken club and potato salad; the sandwich is too massive and she boxes half of it to take home.
Day 355, Sun June 19: When a person has egressed the office environment, there is time to assess all kinds of things about your life to see if they are the best way to go, or can they be improved. Can you get a better insurance deal? Should you move your money from a bank to a credit union? Soup or salad? And what the fuck is up with technology?
The daily digital tsunami of everything is equally a blessing and a hassle. Everybody has their favorites and their most-hated. First, let’s all agree that iCloud is totally confounding. I used it to access some photos another person was sharing; it worked but I had to make a password and an account and it was entirely daunting. It has left me a half-dozen emails that I have never opened. Cloud-based backup and storage is a little less-than-perfect for me (and apparently I’m not alone, no matter how much the industry touts The Cloud, the consuming public is slow to give it traction). Personally, I’m just fine with copying documents and images onto thumb drives and then retrieving them from the drives when I need them. (This has its own negatives: a few dozen memory sticks rattling around in my cubby).
You will probably think I’m joking when I tell you that I like to listen to music on CDs. I have a CD player that is also a recorder, like an old-fashioned two-deck dubbing tape recorder; I can burn a copy just by putting in the original and a blank CD and pushing “record.” I can make hassle-free mix-tape CDs. I don’t have to mess around with streaming or 99-cent downloads or saving-then- copying-to-CD on the computer. My way is much simpler – and it works. I don’t really want or need to listen to music on my phone, though I will no doubt get to that one of these days. And on any device I kind of like You Tube best. I just look for the song I want and then most of the time it will automatically play the other relevant clips from over there on the right side. Much better than Spotify although I will also do Pandora sometimes.
If you think that’s regressive, get this: I still pay a monthly cable bill (obscenely high) to Comcast (which seems to be called Xfinity now). I have looked into all of the “cut the cable” options but none is right for me. I don’t want to pay Netflix to binge-watch TV shows I never watched in the first place. My main viewing is sports – especially my local teams but also all kinds of other competitions. That programming is not available yet without cable. So I have the basic cable plus another simple upgrade that gets me what I really want to watch. Along with that come a few hundred channels I don’t check much if ever. Maybe a “Tiny House Nation” here or an “Antiques Roadshow” there. I am all over “The Great British Baking Show.” Ten minutes of “Pulp Fiction” or “Men In Black.” “Zombieland”? I’d never be able to sit still for that movie in a theater but at home, in bite-size chunks, everybody’s funny: Woody Harrelson, Bill Murray, Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone. Then it’s straight back to “World’s Strongest Men,” or the curling semi-finals, or watching the Mariners lose.
Day 356, Mon June 20: Since I bid adieu to the workplace and stopped setting an alarm clock, my sleep habits have bounced around. The way this first year has played out, I’m now usually in bed by 9 or 10 and up around 8 or 9. Sometimes a little earlier, sometimes later. Today I woke up around 7:15 and decided to get up instead of crawling back into bed. When I first started sleeping without a wake-up call I was popping up closer to 9. Those first few months that I was operating without a schedule I would sometimes read until 11 or midnight but I have fallen into a more regular routine of lights out around 10.
For breakfast, I poured a bowl of Joe’s O’s and added in raisins and walnuts. Looked for milk, but no milk. Looked for almond milk and also came up dry. Found a raspberry yogurt that I mixed into the cereal and that was pretty good.
It’s the first day of summer. In Seattle, this doesn’t guarantee warm weather. It’s clouded over this morning but the forecast is for clear and sunny by afternoon.
Day 357, Tue June 21: I joke about leading a totally slothful life in retirement. That’s only partly true. While it’s a goal of mine to dial everything back and take nothing too seriously, that only goes so far. It’s also important to have things to do and ways to feel productive – whatever you mean by that. At the very least, you’ve got to fill up, what, 50 hours a week minimum that you used to spend at work. Maybe more like 60? Even if you spent most of those hours goofing off, you still had to be there.
I didn’t fill 10 hours today, but I did occupy myself for three productive hours. Enid and I went out on the back slope and cut back raspberry canes that are taking over. Invasive Himalayan blackberries have an extremely efficient survival and propagation strategy and a relentless, aggressive single-minded dedication to proliferating. You know how “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” describes the way corn has manipulated humans to help it colonize the planet? Blackberries don’t give a shit about that; they just run a straight-ahead relentless Mongol invasion.
It was cloudy and cool this morning so we dressed up in long sleeves and jeans and got after it. These things have grown everywhere back there, especially since our neighbor cut down a bunch of trees, opening up our back slope to direct sunshine. In other words, a textbook excellent growth environment for blackberries. The canes, in some cases, are more than an inch thick and yards long. We concentrated on an area around two pretty Vine Maples that are getting up about head height. We want to give those trees a fighting chance and we don’t want the invasive plants to overwhelm them.
When we bought this property eight years ago it was pretty overgrown. Another way to put it is that it was extremely, mega-overgrown. You had to walk single-file down the steps and we had an impenetrable wall of greenery right up to the east wall of the house. We like the natural look better than the manicured look, but we have our limits. Over time, we’ve probably hauled out a quarter or a third of the overgrowth, especially when it comes to laurel bushes and filbert trees and aggressive shrubbery. We’ve also pruned away at trees. This past year since I retired I focused my first efforts on trimming things up in the front yard and up the entry stairs. There’s a huge brush pile of trimmings up near the road, lightly disguised by the trees, that we will need to get chipped one of these days. I’ve got my eye on a massive stand of laurel separating our yard from the walking trail; one of these years I’m going to trim it down into more of a privacy hedge.
Day 358, Wed June 22: My profession that I beat a retreat from was marketing and communications at Bellevue College. The skill set was messaging strategies, brand management, advertising. I also had to have good boss skills; I supervised staff so, for their sake, I had to care about them, be open and direct and have a plan for success.
Before that I worked in similar communications jobs – public information, they usually call it – for City of Seattle departments including low-income housing, human services and the water department. I tried to land these bureaucratic jobs with departments that were trying to do good things. It made work a little more meaningful.
And then, my first career was print journalism, working for newspapers and magazines during the period when that industry was already digging its own grave. I always kept a freelance writing gig going on the side and even, at times, formed partnerships with like-minded folks to form start-up companies.
The trades and the details are different but my overall work-and-retirement story is not so different from that of my immediate hard-working ancestors. My dad owned a grocery store when I was a kid and when that business dwindled he got out and had a pretty remunerative later-life career selling grave monuments and working as an attendant for a funeral home in Schuyler. My mom taught grade school, first at a one-room country schoolhouse and then at Saint Bonaventure’s in Columbus. They both retired and stayed for a while in their home in Schuyler and then in assisted living in Omaha. Both of them lived until around 90.
My Grandpa George Busch, my mom’s dad, was always an older gentleman of leisure in my memory. He’d sit on his porch smoking a cigar (or, more accurately, chewing a cigar – I don’t remember it ever being lit) and would talk with me about how I’d done in that day’s baseball or basketball game, depending on the season. I’m not too clear on his jobs but somehow I have the idea that he had a hand in the Schuyler bank until the Great Depression came along and everything sank. After that he might have had a creamery in town. My Grandma Bertha Busch, to my knowledge, was always a homemaker, as were most small-town women – most women, period, I guess — of that time. Once a year I could go to her house before school for breakfast and she would make me the world’s greatest potato pancakes.
I never knew my Grandpa Pete Becker, my dad’s dad, who died pretty young. I think that he ran a tavern in Schuyler, and possibly an early version of Becker Grocery. My Grandma Lizzie Becker was alive until I was a teen. I used to go over and mow her lawn and she would pay me a big rough-cut slice of homemade bread with butter and jelly, and a glass of iced tea. She had sea shells in her house for little kids to marvel at, and a magnifying glass. She had raised her own kids as a single mom (I don’t think she worked at a job, so I’m not sure where the money came from – there probably wasn’t much) and was a women’s rights activist in the suffragette style of her times. She was pretty strong-minded. There’s a lot to admire.
Day 359, Thu June 23: Enid is off for the summer and around the house, so my routines change. We do stuff together. She cooks a lot more meals. I’m trying an extremely radical and dangerous experiment for the couple of months of summer: no big detailed to-do lists, just small ones with everyday reminders. Attempting to create a more summer-like laisses faire vibe. We’ll see if I survive this, or if the world comes to an end.
The kitchen is a mess, so I should clean that up. One of the decluttering books I’ve been believing in recommends keeping all surfaces clear as a major step to tamping down disorder. Instead of cleaning up, though, I reset a screw in a loose cupboard door hinge that was making a startling thunk every time we opened it.
For the second consecutive day, it is cold and wet. It’s too rainy to walk, so we run shopping errands. Rite-Aid (vitamins and supplements); Home Depot (supplies for painting the cabin bathroom the next time we are out there); , Walgreen’s (picking up photo prints I uploaded online this morning); Trader Joe’s (groceries).
Later in the afternoon, Enid was out and I took the opportunity to put on “The Essential Byrds” and then “Oceana”, lie on the couch and read the paper. Nadia came and crawled onto my lap (or what would have been my lap if I was sitting up, not lying down) and fell asleep. Not wishing to be contrarian, I fell asleep too.
In the evening, Enid went to a retirement party for the head counselor at her school. It was at Seastar, a top seafood restaurant in downtown Bellevue. She sat with Ellen, a friend of ours from the youth-lacrosse days when her daughter Morgan played for Bellevue East with Elena and her husband Steve was one of the dad-coaches.
I stay home and watch the Mariners, who have been in full collapse for the past month. Last night they lost to the Tigers with a walk-off wild pitch – what one friend called “quintessentially Marineristic” – and tonight they fall behind the Cardinals 3-1 in the eighth inning. And then win it with an Adam Lind three-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth.
Day 360, Fri June 24: I’m as sensitive and bitter and vengeful as anybody. I’m as ready as the next guy to nurse old grudges. Forgive and forget? Not really one of my catch-phrases. Nevertheless, I learned long ago that you got to let it go. Don’t be a doormat, and have a tough skin that is insult-repellent. But don’t hang on to bad vibes.
This is true at all phases of life, but even more so in retirement. Maybe – I doubt it, but maybe — you could justify carrying around some hoary resentment for 30 years just in case the opportunity should come along for payback against your enemy. (Who, by the way, doesn’t even know that they wronged you; they don’t feel bad about it, just you.) But even if there was a time that you could have rationalized your emotions, that time is not now. You still don’t have to forgive, just forget.
Personally, I have shucked most of the emotion, but I am just being selfish to take a load off my shoulders. I’m not campaigning for sainthood. There are lots of people I am going to keep avoiding. And I’m speaking as someone who has had at least one atoning mean person try to apologize for some ancient mistreatment that we had both remembered – there was no doubt that they were at fault and it had led to estrangement — and I have simply turned and walked away. When they say “I’m sorry” you don’t have to say “Oh, that’s all right.” So it’s possible – even years later – to get some kind of reprisal against somebody who treated you shitty. To even the sheet. But who’s keeping score?
Maybe you are different from me; maybe you are the Better Person and can pardon all the transgressions against you. That’s the kind of thing that can give you a nicely glowing aura and I am jealous. It’s a good goal. In the same way that we are downsizing old sociology textbooks off our shelves, we can also eliminate bad karma that’s gathering dust on our chakras. I’ve got a friend who says hate is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person dies; there’s something to that in hanging on to these old bad feelings too. It’s not healthy to give assholes lifetime leases on space in the apartment house of your emotions. Let it go.
Day 361, Sat June 25: Elena treated me to the M’s game as a belated Father’s Day present. It’s Turn Back The Clock Night so we get sweet retro hats when we go through the gate. As we like to do, we show up early so we can roam the concourse checking everything out, get some ballpark food and a beer and watch batting practice. That golden time of day when the late-afternoon sun is still lighting the field is hard to top. We have outstanding seats that she could afford: 300-level up above the visitors’ dugout along the third base line. The Singing Sisters provide a good straightforward National Anthem. We’re in a fun section that includes some boisterous Cardinals fans who show their good nature when the M’s immediately jump out to a 4-0 first-inning lead and continue to pound the opponents throughout the game. In the fifth inning a drunken fan runs onto the field and is tackled by security, so we get a little extra for the price of admission.
Besides the fact that it’s dad and daughter bonding, Elena’s a good person to watch a game with: she’s a knowledgeable sports fan, she’s played enough competitions herself to know what’s up on the field, she cracks good jokes, she enjoys all the ancillary sideshow action that enhances a day at the ball yard (funky concessions vendors, fat guys caught on Dance-Cam), she can carry on an intermittent nine-inning conversation about non-baseball topics without losing the thread of the game we’re watching.
Day 362, Sun June 26: I try to be a contributing member of my community but it’s hard to stay positive with rejections like this. The Man is keepin’ me down!
“Dear Bart Becker:
Thank you for submitting your request for a port-a-potty, at Saddleback Park, to the Cougar Mountain/Lakemont Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP). After careful consideration and review, City staff determined that your request is out of the scope of the program. Due to maintenance budget limitations, the City is not expanding the public restroom facility program at this time. The Parks & Community Services Department will maintain a record of your request for future planning and funding opportunities.
We very much appreciate your input, and highly value your participation in NEP. Please continue to stay involved in the process by attending the Cougar Mountain/Lakemont Project Open House on Wednesday, September 7, 2016, at the Lewis Creek Visitor Center, from 6-8 pm. If you are unable to attend . . .”
Day 363, Mon June 27: Got up and sat out on the back deck – sun shining, birds chirping and nothing is going to stop this day from reaching 85 degrees – and drank coffee, read the paper, ate a bowl of cereal, paid the bills. We are going out to the cabin tomorrow for a few days to do some fix-up, spruce-up chores so I need to gather the tools and materials up to the garage. We need to reset some loose tiles out there, Enid is going to paint the bathroom so we need all of the supplies for that job, and I am going to replace the disintegrating wood steps from the driveway down to the front porch; they are like trail steps so I’ll buy 4 x 4s at the lumberyard in Belfair. Putty knives, spackle, rollers, brushes, drop cloth, caulk, trim lath, nails, hammer, sandpaper, palm sander, hand saw, saber saw, curtain rod, screwdriver, pick axe, sledge hammer, spade. We got the tools and we got the talent.
Day 364, Tue June 28: For the year, the Health app on my phone says I walked 2,200 miles, more of less like walking from Seattle to Austin. I averaged six miles a day. I didn’t record every day’s walk in this write-up of my year, but I have kept a daily exercise journal where I jot every day’s mileage, plus where I walked and any notes. Most days I did a hike of some sort or another for 3-4-5 miles. Some days I did something long, 6-8-10 miles or more; a few even more distance. And some days I did nothing, just the mile or so of incidental walking around the house, those strolls down the hallway from my desk to the fridge can add up. Today I walked down to Horizon View, the neighborhood just below us. Three-and-a-half miles.
Day 365, Wed June 29: Let’s review.
In retirement you want to be good to go financially and emotionally so that you are happy. It’s simple, but not always easy.
First, while you’re still marking off the days with hash marks on the cell wall, you have to figure out how to leave your job. The best way is to walk on your own terms, whatever those are. Sometimes that’s not possible, if you’re in a volatile industry, for example. Regardless, leave and close that door firmly behind you. Don’t have retiree’s remorse. Embrace change and your new life.
Get your money right so that’s not a stressor. Be prepared. In fact, be over-prepared. Start saving money habitually and routinely when you’re 25 or so, and then forget about it. When you’re 63, start researching into what retirement is all about and what are your options. Sort out your household expenses, and your retirement income streams. Where’s the money going to come from?
Like it or not, you need to plunge through the looking glass and sign up for Social Security and Medicare, whatever that will look like for you. It’s not as bad as everybody says, including me. Still, good luck and best wishes for a speedy recovery.
If you’re not quite retired yet right now, you’re obviously thinking about it (you’re reading this book, at least). That’s good. If you’re already an older person of leisure, it’s still good to think about your retirement. You may have decades in front of you. Maybe you make a few tweaks that make everything better. And just thinking about it serves as strategic planning; it will pay off down the road in ways you won’t even be aware of.
Then figure out ways to live large, spend small.
So it’s important to have your finances tightened up, but money is not the only currency. You can – and should — measure things in time, health, fulfillment and satisfaction.
It’s surprising, but some folks seem to never have got the memo about how life works. That you’re born young and then get old. They look up one day and they are like, wow, where did this come from? How’d I get old all of a sudden. I get it, sort of. For me, too, it seems like only yesterday that I was buying Nehru shirts and Dave Clark 5 records. Spoiler alert: time marches on.
Some people – older people – get indignant about the culture of youth and the stigmatization of old age. It was so much better back then! Those were the days! I’ve got two comments. One, it’s more fun to live in your times. That includes the past, but also the present and future. And, two, I say don’t get mad, get even. Embrace the gray hair. Free The Wrinkle!
But, every point has its corollary. You’re retired. You’re old. Nobody’s paying any attention to you. There are benefits. You don’t have to be hip, or keep up, or any of that stuff (if you even ever bothered to do that before you retired). Just because you’re retired, you don’t necessarily have to invent a new you. Unless you want to. Be true to yourself.
If you want to grow a hipster beard and wear a funny hat and get bad tattoos, go for it. I won’t judge. Well, actually, I will totally judge, but not for the time right now that I’m writing up this journal entry. If that’s your idea of how to do life, then it will take more than a comment from me to mend your ways.
Yes, I’m going to die someday. But for now I’m still here. I like it this way, so I’ll do what I can to take care of myself, for strictly selfish reasons.
And there are many paths to retirement enlightenment. Some people want to retire and move to Belize. They’re reading “Florida for Boomers.” Some people want to be entrepreneurial and launch that start-up they’ve been putting off for 40 years. Some have a long list of deferred maintenance around the house, or special projects they’ve been waiting to attack. Some people see retirement as a period when they’ve finally got time to eat healthy and get some exercise they’ve been putting off. Some just want to sit on their ass and smell the roses. These are all good ways to do retirement.
Embrace change. Personally, I’m cautious by nature. What do they say? Always pack the belt and the suspenders? It’s not wise to be incautious, but the retirement years are a time to be willing to walk through open doors. Things retirees did that surprised them, in one listicle: spending more money than expected, moving to a new location, relaxing more than expected, volunteering or donating to charity, traveling the world, taking classes, starting a business.
For me, walk-taking and salad-making have been a solid foundation.
Retirement frees you from the need to have a reason for everything you do, and you definitely don’t need a justification for doing nothing. It’s its own reward. There are way fewer rules to abide by. None, in some situations.
So, not to state the obvious, but put a little thought into it (although most people considering retirement are already putting too much planning into it – I certainly over-thought it). And then once you’ve taken the plunge, enjoy it and don’t look back. As long as you’ve still got one butt cheek on the ergonomic office chair, that’s one thing. Once you’re gone, be gone.
At our neighborhood Friday Night Potluck the other evening I was talking with a guy who is a game designer for Amazon, one kid starting college and another in grade school; he’s a decade off of retirement. He was describing how the company has six core values, or whatever they call them — be frugal, think big — all of which are good, but then employees have to justify their work by checking whether their current project aligns with the overarching company values. It’s a corporate-planning cliché exercise that I’ve done many times myself, and not what he likes to do best.
Retirement is different than working for Amazon in so many ways. I’m not making awkward strategic plans, or justifying my existence (to myself, or possibly to Enid) by showing how my daily activities roll up to the Core Values, or giving myself performance reviews. But there’s still a slight connection to this core values stuff. My main objective in retirement is to Relax and Enjoy Myself. As I stated way back at the start of this journal, I had three things in mind for my retirement goals: 1) Simplify, 2) Take Control, 3) Get a Deeper Connection. So, it’s true that if some activity pops up but doesn’t further my progress toward those core values – and therefore my happiness – I can pretty much say to myself, Nah, ain’t nobody wanna see that.
So you want a bit of a plan, and something meaningful. Otherwise, all you’re left with in advanced age are witticisms about nostril and ear hair. Jokes about designer Depends. Mots, if not always bon ones, curated from the middle 20 minutes of Dana Carvey’s stand-up routine at the Emerald Queen Casino (“You know you’re old when you hurt yourself reaching for the phone. I’ll get it, hon. ‘Owwww!’”) Or was that Sinbad? Larry The Cable Guy?
(Sotto voce: Let’s live in the past for the duration of this parenthesis about adult diapers. Remember that female astronaut who put on Depends to drive non-stop cross-country. I’m pretty sure she made it, too. I don’t remember the details but I think she loved somebody who was not that into her. Can’t remember if her plan was kidnapping or murder or what. Or how it all turned out. Regardless, don’t be like her.)
Fall in love, stay in love, be open to love. It should be obvious by now that love is not a predictable thing. But you have to stay in the game to score. You have to buy the lottery ticket to have a chance at winning. And sometimes, when it comes to companionship, you get what you need.
Be an optimist and look on the sunny side. If you’re always a negative downer the people around you will be bummed out but the main person who will be adversely affected is you. Respect yourself. Don’t treat yourself bad like that, treat yourself good.
Here’s a dab of amateur counseling: don’t carry around misgivings about things you did decades ago. Everybody’s life can be reduced to a squirming clotted web of bad choices, mean remarks, selfish behavior. Probably all of them venial sins and misdemeanors, but still an accumulated burden of minor badness. And, paradoxically, most of us are also caring human beings. Because we care, we’ve already spent too much time guiltily obsessing over our fucked-up actions and wanting to make amends. If there are any folks out there who I made feel bad by my thoughtless actions in the past 65 years, I’m sincerely sorry. I apologize. (Except for a few people who were assholes themselves; I meant it when I treated them with malice.) It’s possible – likely, even – that the people who were the targets or victims of your jerky behavior don’t even remember it. They’re too busy worrying about their own lifetime of doling out nastiness. We’re all terrible people, so we might as well just get over it. That’s what I’ve tried to do.
So, regrets, I’ve had a few; but then again, too few to mention. I’m lucky in that respect because I’m not all that introspective or self-reflective. Maybe I mentioned? I’m a guy? I do wonder sometimes if I’ve been my Greatest Self. Have I maximized? Doubt it, but it’s kind of late in the game if I haven’t. All you can do is do all you can.
When you are trying to structure your beautiful and perfect utopian retirement of fulfillment, keep in mind the old coaching axiom about luck (somehow it seemed inevitable that I was going to wrap this up by making life seem like sports, didn’t it): luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. So get your shit together, have a blueprint for success but then go with the flow. Don’t be so locked into your plan that you can’t improvise. Don’t self-helicopter-parent. Don’t trip over yourself.
And then, the best retirement follows the old enlightenment guidelines: the less you seek, the more you find.
Day 366, Thu June 30: Got up around 8:30. Smoothie and coffee for breakfast. Tightened a screw in a loose basement doorknob. Messed around online. Took a walk down to Eastgate Elementary and back. Checked my Social Security account online. Listened to Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Raphael Saddiq. Then Bob Dylan. Did a few things.
For dinner, baked a piece of salmon on rice, and a salad out of the garden, with white wine. Ate out on the front deck. Had mint-chocolate-chip ice cream mini-sandwiches and lemonade for dessert.