Archive for the ‘Retirement’ Category

“The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak.” There probably isn’t a single retired person who hasn’t used that line at least once since entering the outer lobby of God’s waiting room. For example, my car is at the auto repair shop today. That shop is only three miles away. It would please me greatly to jog or walk, as the case might be, to pick up the car rather than have one of the mechanics drive to the house and my having to drive him back. Yes, it would please me greatly…ain’t gonna happen…no matter how much my mind would like to do this, I’m aware that I (a) I couldn’t jog down the driveway, (b) I couldn’t walk to the end of my own street, and (c) I could cause myself severe discomfort and probably hospitalization if I even thought too long or hard about doing it in the first place. This is fact. Old people don’t think of themselves as old. We believe we can run a 10K in 45 minutes…we can’t. We believe that we can still stand up at the plate and hit a curve ball…we can’t. We believe we can drive a golf ball 250 yards…we can’t. We believe, we believe, we believe.

There was a time when I could hit that curve…I could never drive a golf ball. As we age, it’s wonderful to have those expectations of ourselves, but the truth is, we are damned to lowering our expectations if we expect to survive to our next birthday. I asked a few friends how they felt about “getting up there,” and how they spend their time in the “days of dotage.” One pal wrote, ”My activities would be of no value to you as I lead a very dull lifestyle. My day starts at around 5:30 am, not because I want to be up at that hour, but nature calls, and I haven’t wet the bed in years. It’s only after relieving myself that I’m awake enough to understand that I hurt too much to go back to sleep. Morning coffee is next on the list, along with attempting the crossword puzzle that was in last night’s newspaper…this in an attempt to stave off senility…or to keep my current state of mind from wandering any further away. Usually, I say ‘to hell with it, and cheat on the crossword puzzle. Finally, I get to my e-mail, checking to see all the great things on which I can save money…but don’t need, and all the lonely hearts who are dying to meet me. My wife gets up and who knows when or where we will go or what time we’ll get back. Since she doesn’t allow me to go in most of the stores, I stand outside and pester other shoppers. Once we get home, I check the obits in the paper, and if I don’t find my name, it’s time for a drink…then dinner – in or out – and a little TV. Since most of the stuff sucks, I either fall asleep in the chair or head off to bed by 11, asking myself, “what the hell did I do all day to be so tired.?” Then I say thanks for the day and hope to hell I wake up to do it all again the next day.”

Other friends are not so fortunate. I have three friends whose spouses are in various stages of dementia. The days of spousal love are gone, and the days of care giver love have arrived. As I’ve mentioned in several pieces, being a care giver becomes a fulltime job. A great deal depends on the stage and the type of dementia through which the spouse is going, nonetheless, it becomes a burden that only true love can survive. I pray for my friends…and their spouses. Unlike caring for someone who is terminally ill from cancer, ALS, MS, or some other degenerative disease, all of these folks are ambulatory and must be watched carefully for wandering is a real possibility.

Heard from another friend, and this geezer – he’s older than I am – is still working. Well, he does volunteer fundraising for several organizations. That does not mean, however, that he neglects his golf game, still trudging around the 18 holes at least three times a week. Thankfully, his spouse is also an avid golfer, and from what I’ve heard through the grapevine, is now challenging him around the greens.

I continue to insist that no one should retire without a plan to help keep them busy…in the short run, the medium period, and the long term. If someone wants to travel in their retirement, great, but you must have the cash as well as the desire. A woman at the gym just came back from touring Sweden and Norway. She found it difficult to believe that I’d never been to Europe. “I’d like to see more of our own country,” I told her. She seemed to find that rather parochial, and, I believe somewhat plebian, but that’s okay…guess I’m just a country boy at heart. I’m quite certain that the castles of Germany, France, Switzerland, and elsewhere, the pyramids of Egypt, and the jungles of the Amazon are thrilling to some. However, I’ve seen the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, and I’ve stood atop Pike’s Peak, looking back to Kansas and its sparkling waves of grain. I’ve driven through the desert of the Southwest, and stood in the snow in Atlanta, Georgia, and I’ve walked on beaches in Florida and Maine, but the USA still holds a great deal of mystery to me. So, I guess I’ll just write a bit more in the blog, go to the gym, do a little gardening when I can, latch hook when I can’t, and just work like hell to stay alive. If that’s not to be, shoot, I’ve had a pretty good run. Hope everyone out there can say the same.

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Retirement… the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.” It’s also what juries do when they leave a courtroom to consider evidence of guilt or innocence. The word itself has any number of synonyms…evacuation, withdrawal, fallback, pullback, etcetera, but I have another word for this thing we call “retirement.” It’s unfortunate, but my word is “death.” Just as we’ve all heard the expression, “suicide by cop,” so, I have paraphrased it a bit by calling it “suicide by retirement.”

“What are you going to do when you retire?” I often ask younger people who are at that stage in their lives. The answers vary widely. Some people talk about the cruises they’re going to take, others speak of seeing America. “Work on my golf game,” I have heard often. Of course, I never had a golf game to work on, so that one just sort of rolls right off my back. Those who know how badly I played golf the few times that I gave it a go laugh when they talk about their own game…ah@#$%&&*@ them! Then there are those who ask “Whadda ya mean, do? I’m gonna retire and enjoy life.” Wow, that’s a fine thing to say, but I wonder what it means. Does it mean that you’re going to travel, join a gym, read all of those books you never had time to read when you were working…which means sitting on your ass all day, getting fat, and probably having a stroke or a heart attack within a year or two because you’ve been sitting on your ass all day!

I hate to say it, but retirement has to have a plan just as much as anything you’ve ever done. Trust me, I know this to be a fact. I’ve been retired damn near twenty years, and I can tell you two of things that are imperative if you are to enjoy your retirement. First, you must continue to exercise your mind in some way. Whether that way is by doing some reading, traveling to educate yourself, doing crossword puzzles, or even taking courses at a college somewhere, you have to challenge your mind to keep it active. The second thing is that you must care for your body. Remember, when you retire, you won’t be bouncing around as much as you probably did while working. In addition, as we age, our metabolism slows down. We don’t know all of the food/fuel that we once did. It’s great if you play golf or tennis, racquetball or squash, or something else that will help to keep your body in good shape. Let me hypothesize for just a minute, however, and say that you’re not in great physical shape. Perhaps, like me, you’ve had surgeries on your back, knees, and shoulders. Perhaps you have been paid a visit by our old friend, ‘Arthur,”…arthritis, that is, and you are truly limited in what physical activities you can perform. To put it simply, “It’s a bitch!” However, it shouldn’t be viewed that way if you wish to stick around on earth for a while longer. I joined a gym. It’s not all that expensive. It has the recumbent bicycle that doesn’t bother my back, knees, or shoulders, and I’ve met some wonderful people, some older, and some much younger {They’re the ones who piss me off because I can’t do all the things they do).

Let’s face it, unless you’re Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or someone of that ilk, you may well be limited by the resources available to you. That means that you are not going to be as blindly active as you once were, and I don’t know about you, but I maintain that activity – both of mind and body – is one of the keys to living longer. I’m quite certain I’ve written about it before, but I can think immediately of three cases before I retired when others did and were dead in a year. One man retired to take care of his wife who was mildly ill. She found him with his head on the kitchen table about eight months after he’d left his job. The second was a faculty member who wanted to teach until he was 72, retire and travel with his wife. He never made it to 73. The third and the one I consider most tragic was a retiree who wanted to go on cruises with his wife. He didn’t realize, until he took his first cruise, that he didn’t really care for cruises. Came home and was walking the dog one evening. He dropped dead. No one ever knew that he had a heart condition, not him, not his wife, not his doctors…or maybe he just didn’t see much point in continuing to live.

I’m making this whole planning your retirement thing sound like a big deal, and I guess it is. When I retired, I had hoped to see America again. I wanted to go back to Bermuda a few more times. I hoped to and did for several years continue to teach. Yes, I had those books that my wife had read and talked about, along with a few hundred more, that I wanted to read. I wanted to buy a bike and ride around. And yes, I wanted to start a blog to help keep my mind active. No one told me that my knees would get much worse or that replacement, at least in my case, was not really an option. No one said that both rotator cuffs would tear or that a third back surgery would be necessary. Nobody mentioned that Joan would get cancer and die in 13 months. No one said; no one said; no one said.

Look, if you’re lucky enough to make it to retirement, consider it a gift for all of the crap you’ve had to take…from pre-school to the day they hand you the golden parachute or whatever you call it. Speaking for myself and several friends, retirement is great. Do everything you can while you can. Make up your mind to keep both your brain and your body active. Just don’t do it on the day of or the day after you retire. Think ahead. Go back to the days of your youth when you thought you were immortal, invincible, and inviolable. Who knows how many years you’ll have? Might as well make the best of them. Remember what Dylan Thomas has taught us, “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” or…”Give it hell while you’ve got it!”

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Less than a month after graduating from college, I was walking down the aisle of a Catholic church in Waban – that’s one of the many villages of the city of Newton – marrying a beautiful girl that I had met seven months before in one of those quirks of fate ‘thingies.’ I had been exercising my option on a second major and doing some substitute teaching and on the first day on the job, was smitten with an arrow from Cupid’s quiver. She was smart, beautiful, and the weird part was…she liked me! I’d already had one bad breakup over this Catholic vs. Protestant religion idiocy, and while I wasn’t certain about spending a lifetime together, I was damn well certain that that would not get in the way with this girl.

Fifty years, three children, and nine grandchildren later, we buried the girl who’d become a woman, a mother, a grandmother, and my best friend. But as you would know had you read “The Dash” by Linda Ellis, it was neither the date of her birth nor the date of her death but that little line between them that made our lives together so wonderful. If there was ever any truth in the statement that “opposites attract,” it certainly applied in our case. She was an only child from a reasonably prosperous family and lived in a large city. I was one of three from a family that struggled mightily after the Great Depression and who, by comparison, lived in a rather small town. Finding one another as we did, well…you could only describe it as quirky.

The first seven years of our marriage was a series of highs and lows. The highs came in attending numerous shows in Boston, having a place of our own on the Cape and attending every performance that the Falmouth Playhouse had to offer; dining in some of the finer restaurants around and generally enjoying our jobs. She became Director of Admissions at Tufts Dental School, and I was slowly moving up in my job at Northeastern. We commuted together, tried new recipes together, did a few crazy things together that you don’t need to read about and in total, had a wonderful life. The lows came as we lost three children before they were born…and if you haven’t been there, it’s pretty low.

The first two children might have been called Irish twins, they were born so close together. The third came along a few years later. As those of you who are married well know, life with young kids is a life unto its own. They become the center of your universe. We were no different. Elementary school, Cub Scouts, Brownies, PTA, Little League, and a host of other activities combined to eat up that time formerly dedicated to plays, movies, and restaurants. In our case, swimming became the dominant focus. I swear that our car could have gone from Newton to the Brown University swimming facility on its own. As parents, we maintained our “slim” figures by sweating it out at day-long swim meets where the indoor temperature seemed well into the triple digits.

Then…she was gone. The kids, by now, were married with children of their own. The house…well, the house was empty…except for a man growing older with little to do. A few years later, a new lady came into my life…all the way from California. Life became worthwhile living once more. This love was different…and so was the lifestyle. From restaurants and shows, it became craft fairs and drives around New England. It was learning the history of this part of the country and teaching me the history of her part of the world. It was a renewed form of education. From Boston Duck tours to a helicopter ride.

The rite of spring became building of raised garden beds – she did the building – to watching seeds turn into summer squash, jalapeno peppers – wow, could they be hot – and tomatoes. I was taught about heirloom, pear, cherry, yellow, and beau coup other types of tomatoes. We had radishes – who the hell eats radishes – cucumbers, and even a season or two of green beans and peas. All of this was totally foreign to me and to what my life had been like. Other parts of the yard were taken over by a variety and abundance of lilies, sun flowers, forget-me-nots, and hyacinth. Roses included Mr. Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth, cocoa, roses-within-roses, yellows, reds, whites, pinks, and on and on. Flowers were planted that bloomed in early spring, followed by late spring, followed by summer. It appeared that color appeared from April through October. My new love sprayed with her own concoctions of both fertilizer and bug killer. Diatomaceous earth, normally used in the pool filter, became a barrier against slugs; lily beetles were plucked with tweezers, and tomato worms quickly learned the errors of their ways if they were gutsy enough to get anywhere near our plants.

Why do I tell you these things? Why would I lay a part of my life bare for all to know? There are many answers, but perhaps the most important one is directed at those who are widows or widowers. Life does not end when your partner dies. It does not end when the nest empties and only the two of you remain, often as strangers because so much of your time has been devoted to children rather than each other. You may have to learn to love again, but it will be a deeper love and yes, it will be a different type of love. And then, as I have said, you will be alone. Friends will come and they will go; few, if any, leaving the footprints on your heart that were already deeply imprinted. If you are as fortunate as I, and you may well be, someone will come along, and you, you will find a totally different world…again, just as I did. Remember, life is worth living to your very last breath.

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Retirement is not for the faint of heart. There, I’ve said it, and if you wish, I will repeat it…oh, screw that; you can just reread the first sentence. For a while, retirement really seemed a great thing. Go places you’ve never been participate in activities you wish you had had the time to get into while you were working; actually meeting new people and learning about their lives; finding new hobbies that were extremely interesting…for a while.

I’ve said it before, and I believe it’s important to understand that retirement should not be considered as a time when one just sits on one’s proverbial butt and watch as it expands to fill the width of a chair. Retirement is a time when you should be able to do all of those things you cursed about because you couldn’t do them when that nasty thing called “work” interfered. Perhaps, it was a solid round of 18 holes that was played on weekends, but you were positive you could break 90 if only you had the chance to play a couple of times during the week. Maybe it was spending a week touring a national park but that wasn’t possible even during vacation…because you were never able to work in a full vacation. There were a thousand ideas, things you’d do when you retired; when the house was paid off; when the summer place could be put to good use without having to make a few calls to the office while you were supposed to be relaxing. Just wait until retirement. Ah, yes, the things to which you were looking forward without having to worry that someone, anyone would call and ask you your opinion on something or a request to give a couple of hours on a certain project…those would be the days.

The big day arrives and out the door you go. Maybe you think you might miss a few of the old crowd. Promises to say in touch are exchanged; sometimes they may even be kept, but really, those people only serve to remind you of the work you once did, and that’s the thing you want furthest from your mind. You get in those 18 holes every few days, but you find that it’s not as easy to walk around the course as it used to be so you get a cart. That makes the distance between holes a little shorter but the game doesn’t improve the way you thought it might. You learn from your doctor that the pain in your shoulder is a torn rotator cuff and you should probably have it repaired. That will keep you off the course for a while. You continue to do different things. Heck, the surgery means you’ll get a chance to catch up on your reading, but you need new glasses, bifocals this time, and they’re a pain in the ass to use, but you catch on…after a while.

After a few years, the summer place becomes more of a burden than a pleasure and you announce your intention to sell it. This sets up a bit of a dispute between you and the kids…who use it with their children now and who enjoy going there but not the cost of the upkeep. You offer to sell it or even give it to them, but when the chips are down, they really don’t believe it’s worth it. With luck, you sell at a profit, and hope that you can do something productive with the monies you receive, but it just goes into the bank and gets spent in other ways.

As you age in your retirement, one of you gets a diagnosis of a terminal illness. While I haven’t experienced getting kicked in the chest by a mule, it seems to me that getting that diagnosis must feel the same way…except for being longer lasting. The one who is not ill goes from being a spouse to being a care-giver, and I guarantee you, the roles are quite different. If your spouse asks to die at home and you can accommodate that request, do it; no matter what it takes, do it. If you can afford round the clock nursing care, do it. Most people I know can’t afford that, but they can afford to have someone come in one, possibly two days a week…do it. The care-giver is on duty 24/7/365. The illness consumes your live, even unto death and for years after that.

After a while, retirement becomes more of a drudge than a thing of beauty and a joy forever. You get old. Your knees – at least those that haven’t been replaced – begin to hurt like the devil. Your golf game, if that was your big desire, slows down considerably. In fact, there are days when you can hardly wait to get home and lay down. Traveling is more of a burden than a delight, and while the sights are pretty, so is that bottle of Aleve or something stronger.

In his book, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stephen King wrote, “An old man’s body is nothing but a sack in which he carries aches and indignities.” He may have a point, but that same sack carries memories that are so beautiful as to defy some of those aches. English actress, Judy Parfitt, says, “The thing about growing old is you have to accept it – if you don’t, you’ll be as miserable as sin. You’ve got to try and find the few good things about it.” And there are good things about aging. The best of these lies in being constantly amazed at the advances that have been made in your lifetime. Technology, science, medicine, aviation, have seen remarkable advances, and yes, even golf clubs have been improved. When I look at my smart phone of today and think that it possesses more power than the computers that put men on the moon several decades back, I’m both amazed and delighted. When I see photographs depicting other galaxies with planets that are potentially capable of supporting human life as we see it daily, I’m in awe. On and on and on it goes, and in my retirement, as much as I dislike the aches and pains, the things I can no longer do, I am delighted that in the later years of retirement I can see such progress in our shrinking world.

I can only hope for one more thing before I die. If would be truly grand if Boston could get it’s Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority to go through one single year without breakdowns, delays and excuses that are somewhat akin to “The dog ate my homework!”

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Advice…People give you more goddamned useless advice. “Now, when you retire, you should…” “When I retired I had a lot of fun doing…” Bullshit, you don’t know me; you don’t know what would or would not please me, so please, please, please, keep your advice.

I never said that of course. People think they’re doing you a favor by telling you what worked for them; what made them happy. They’re well-intentioned, it’s true, but retirement or the mere thought thereof is sufficiently traumatic. It’s worse, I suppose, if there is some kind of policy that says one has to retire at a certain age. In my own case, I left voluntarily when I was just over 63, recognizing that if I had to wait for two years, I would either have been fired or jailed for assault. I didn’t care for the person that replaced my boss, and I’m the type who tends to speak his mind, ergo, things would not have gone well…for him or for me.

The only good bit of advice that I ever received concerning retirement was this: “Be sure you have something to do that you can do for the rest of your life.” It’s simple and it’s the best advice anyone could ever give. Whatever “it” may be, one should have experimented with it prior to retirement. Few things would have made me happier than to see some parts of the world that my son had spoken of but I knew long before retirement that Florence, Paris, and several other cities would be out of the question. When you have bad knees and a back that’s been through three surgeries, you will, if you’re smart, forget about extensive travel. Documentaries and computer research may not be the same thing, but they can serve a very useful purpose, and if you try hard enough, they’ll fill the bill. Taking up a sport in retirement can only cause frustration and has the potential for injury that is an unnecessary risk. If one is already committed to golf or tennis, great, but to take it up after one retires is a questionable decision.

One of the most interesting things about retirement lies in the question, “How long will I live in my retirement?” If one retires because of illness, great, you have some idea of how long you’ll smell the roses before you’ll smell the roots; if not, it’s a guessing game. Based on my own history, I wouldn’t have bet on anything beyond a few years. Things do have a way of changing as we all know, and I’ve been retired now for damn near 20 years…who’d evah have thunk it? If I was to give advice to anyone about this facet of life, I’d say, “Plan to live to 100; anything more than that’s a bonus; anything less is probably what you were thinking in the first place.” As Dr. Wayne Dyer writes in his book, Your Erroneous Zones, “Look over your shoulder; you have a constant companion. For want of something better, call it your own death. You can keep looking over your shoulder, in which case death will catch up to you more quickly, or you can forget that death is even back there and just plunge ahead.” It’s wonderful advice from a man who appears to know of what he speaks.

Now I’m doing the same thing that I cursed in the first sentence of this little essay. Therefore, let me add this: My advice is just as useless as the next person’s. What I tell you is what has worked for me; you may well say, “Yuck, what an asshole; I would never do that stuff,” and that’s fine, but, and it’s a major but, it is imperative that you not sit back on your ass and watch television all day. This will kill you probably faster than anything. Your body goes to pot; you get into the snack thingie, and the next thing you know, diabetes comes a calling. I became a member of a gym. In addition to the physical exercise, I’ve made a number of friends. They are people with diverse backgrounds and they have become my teachers. I’ve learned philosophy from a man who was the headmaster at a private school and who still teaches there. I’ve learned about plumbing from a man who has his own company. I’ve learned travel first hand from a woman who travels all over the world and returns to share her experiences. The learning tree at the gym has more branches than one can count…and it’s like a “workout classroom.”

I’ve also learned the joys of gardening from my companion, Juli. We have both flowers and vegetables, and although the growing season is short in New England, there is plenty of time for salad-makings, including lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, radishes, and croutons…of course you don’t grow croutons, ya damned fool…I was just testing you.

Writing has been a wonderful outlet. There are over 950 essays on this site. Some are pretty bad; others, at least in my alleged mind, aren’t half bad. The two in which I take great pride are She is Gone and The Final Epitaph. While they won’t win any Pulitzer or Peabody Awards, I’d like to think that they show some depth of thinking on my part. Therefore, if you find the idea of writing about your own experiences or any piece of fiction with which you can have some fun, go to it!

If you happen to be a reader, get a Kindle or some other tablet.  Sure, turning pages and the smell of the paper are great, but the Kindle or Nook are lighter and carry more books than you’ll probably read in a lifetime. Pick up a craft; real men can do cross stitch and latch hook and lapidary [look it up].

Retirement means, as a friend told me, that you’ll be able to spend more time looking at the useless catalogs and second class mail addressed directly to you or just to ‘resident.’ It also means that you can now take the time to smell those flowers everyone used to tell you to do when you were working. They do smell pretty darned good. Whatever you elect to do, keep busy, have more than you can accomplish, and listen to a few good jokes every day. Laughter is food for the soul so laugh often and laugh ‘til you cry!

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How ironic it is that the very day after I had posted “Begin planning for tomorrow last “ I should be talking with someone about retirement. It was a little bit frightening. All I could think of mid-way through our conversation was the famous Yogi Berra line, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Let’s clarify something immediately. This is a man who has owned his business for over 25 years. His Dad owned it before him and turned over to his son and extremely lucrative enterprise. If he elects to retire in three years, he will be 53 years old. That’s right; he took over the business when he was reasonably young. Because this is a small business, he was president, ceo, cfo, director of personnel, OSHA officer and any other title of which you can conceive. His hours were ridiculous. He would begin his day, on average, around six in the morning and return home at ten o’clock in the evening…with luck. His health must be great because he speaks of never having had to take a day off for illness…what a constitution! His problem is not one of finances. His problem is one of life changes. While he has little formal education, thank the good Lord, he has a great deal of common sense and is so attuned to what happens when you give up what has been your life.

“I don’t know how I’m going to adjust if I no longer have this to come to every day,” he said

“Then how do you know you want to sell the business?” I asked.

“If I don’t sell it then, I don’t know if I’ll be able to find a buyer later,” he told me.

I should clarify by saying that one of his employees has expressed an interest in buying the business and it’s someone my friend trusts and whom he knows will build the business. As I say, they have casually discussed it and the employee has given my friend some ideas. He’s hesitated to put them into effect, in large measure, because he’s not technology-savvy and right now does not have the time or interest to become so.

It’s obvious that his thinking is reasonably well thought out about this…or was until I asked him the next question. “What are you going to do with your time?”

“Oh, I’ve got lots of things to do,” he said. I’ve got the house on the Cape, my boat, and I love fishing.”

“Well, that takes care of three months of the year,” I responded, “well, most of three months…until you get days when the water is so choppy you can’t go out and that takes care of a couple of weeks. What are you going to do the rest of the year?” He came back with the traditional answer of everyone who doesn’t have an answer: “Oh, I’ve got lots of things to do.”

My response to that statement is generally based on just how well I know the person. This was the first time I’d ever gone beyond, “How’s business; how’re the wife and kids,” and a few other ‘babble’ questions. We were getting into serious territory here, so I merely said, “That’s not an answer, George. That’s called a glittering generality and it don’t mean shit!” I told you I didn’t know him very well. You should hear what I say to close friends!

“Whadda ya mean by that?” he said, giving me a glare I’ve seen him use on suppliers when he thinks they may be ripping him off.

“Are you a golfer?”


“Are you a reader?”


“You swim when you’re down the Cape?”


“You want to see Europe, Bermuda, Africa…maybe North Korea like Rodman.”

“Cripes, no, I don’t want to that!”

“How about your wife? What does she want to do?”

“She wants to continue to work, at least until she’s 60.”

“So, in other words, you’re telling me that you have plans for some parts of three months of the year, and the rest of the time you’re going to sit at home with your “thumb in your bum and your mind in neutral? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Uh…er…no, but…”

“Stop right there,” I said, and then proceeded to tell him about the number of people I knew who had died within a year or three of retirement because they didn’t know what to do with themselves. I told him about people who fell asleep in front of the television set and just didn’t bother to wake up. I told him about a man who dreamed all of his life of spending his and his wife’s retirement aboard cruise ships, but who found out after their first experience that they didn’t care for cruises. He had nothing else going for him…one night he took the dog for a walk and dropped dead…from no apparent health problem.

Retirement is fantastic…if…and that should really be IF in caps. Going into retirement does not mean sitting on your ass in God’s waiting room, holding your breath until some angel comes along and says, “Next, and you’re the only one there.” Retirement presents opportunities to do things you’ve never done before. Sure, a cruise – if you don’t mind some freaking virus – can be a great thing. Taking up golf, if you were once an athlete, can also be fun. Taking courses at a community college can not only expose you to other people – admitted most will be younger – but the learning experience can be fantastic. Not a reader, what subjects interest you? Explore them through the computer. Oh, not computer literate? Well, there’s your first community college course…or learn from a friend if possible. How about some volunteer work? My friend had mentioned ‘meals on wheels’ as something he might, just might, be interested in doing. I’ve done it, and it’s one of the most satisfying volunteer experiences one can have. When I mentioned to him that I enjoy latch hooking rugs while I’m watching television, he looked at me rather askance: “Is that like crocheting?” he asked. “Yeah, I said, you have something against crocheting?” He backed off immediately, but I don’t think he’ll be latch hooking or crocheting anytime soon.

I had to leave, but I told him that if he wanted to continue our talk to give me a call. I doubt that he will, but what the heck, the offer is on the table. The one thing I forgot to tell him is that most retirees I know who are really happy are also so busy they have trouble doing everything they wish. In retirement, the key seems to be to keep yourself so busy that you don’t have time to die!

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When you work your ass off for over 50 years; when you pay union dues…for which you get absolutely nothing; when you contribute to Social Security – I got a raise this year that amounts to thirty-five cents a day – and when you contribute to a pension fund where the foundation president makes over half a million dollars a year, you hope that just maybe, just a tiny wee bit of maybe, that fixed income on which you’re going to retire will be all it takes to get by until they plant you or scatter your ashes somewhere pleasant. If you happen to have saved a few bucks along the way or invested your income wisely, so much the better. I took advice from a broker [former] friend of mine and was taken for a little bit of a bumpy ride, and since that didn’t work out so well the first time, there was no second. It’s rather like the old expression, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

The thing that I have learned is that anyone who attempts to retire solely on Social Security may as well just shoot themselves and be done with it.  Now hold on there, just a minute; I’m not saying that Social Security isn’t worth the powder to blow it to hell. The principles of Social Security are quite grand indeed. They stem from the English ‘Poor Laws.” In England, as economic security began to depend more and more upon the crown rather than upon guilds and “friendly societies” such as the “Freemasons (which came to America in 1730); the Odd Fellows (1819); Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (1868); Loyal Order of Moose (1888); and the Fraternal Order of Eagles (1898)” relinquished some of their efforts to aid those less fortunate than their organizations.

According to the history of Social Security, “When the English-speaking colonists arrived in the New World they brought with them the ideas and customs they knew in England, including the “Poor Laws.” The first colonial poor laws were fashioned after those of the Poor Law of 1601. They featured local taxation to support the destitute; they discriminated between the “worthy” and the “unworthy” poor; and all relief was a local responsibility. No public institutions for the poor or standardized eligibility criteria would exist for nearly a century. It was up to local town elders to decide who was worthy of support and how that support would be provided.

“As colonial America grew more complex, diverse and mobile, the localized systems of poor relief were strained. The result was some limited movement to state financing and the creation of almshouses and poorhouses to “contain” the problem. For much of the 18th and 19th centuries most poverty relief was provided in the almshouses and poorhouses. Relief was made as unpleasant as possible in order to “discourage” dependency. Those receiving relief could lose their personal property, the right to vote, the right to move, and in some cases were required to wear a large “P” on their clothing to announce their status.

“Support outside the institutions was called “outdoor relief” and was looked upon with distrust by most citizens. It was felt that “outdoor relief” made things too easy on the poor who should be discouraged from the habit of poverty in every way possible. Nevertheless, since it was expensive to build and operate the poorhouses, and since it was relatively easy to dispense cash or in-kind support, some outdoor relief did emerge. Even so, prevailing American attitudes toward poverty relief were always skeptical and the role of government was kept to the minimum. So much so that by as late as 1915 at most only 25% of the money spent on outdoor relief was from public funds.”

Two months before I was born, in June of 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in recognition of my mother’s impending birth of a new star in the firmament – did you ever hear such drivel in your life? – informed Congress that he was going to create a Social Security program. Its two major components would be “Title I- Grants to States for Old-Age Assistance, which supported state welfare programs for the aged, and Title II-Federal Old-Age Benefits. It was Title II that was the new social insurance program we now think of as Social Security. In the original Act benefits were to be paid only to the primary worker when he/she retired at age 65. Benefits were to be based on payroll tax contributions that the worker made during his/her working life. Taxes would first be collected in 1937 and monthly benefits would begin in 1942,” which eventually began in 1940.

As our society has advanced, Social Security has found it difficult to keep pace. While, as I have said, the intent of the program was terrific, it never quite achieved what its originators hoped to accomplish, and pension plans became part of retirees’ hopes and dreams.

The problem that many retirees face today is that while their income is more or less fixed, the cost of living is increasing at a more rapid rate. For example, it costs me approximately one thousand dollars more per year for groceries than it did in 2011. Health insurance has increased at almost the same rate during the same period. Real estate taxes have increased by nearly three thousand dollars. At the same time, Social Security and pension benefits have increased by $200. For many of us, aging also means an increase in the number of prescription drugs we are required to take. Certainly, Medicaid or a health insurance program covers much of the cost, however, I recently paid nearly $350 for one drug, and that is not noted as a particularly expensive medication.

Am I advocating more help from the government? No, that would be farcical at best and a tragedy at worst. No, I’m not advocating anything other than to warn those who are in their forties and fifties to plan, if you haven’t already, for a retirement that will be far more expensive than any of which you can conceive. I don’t have any sound financial advice for you other than that. Poo-poo my advice at your peril, and if you think you can keep up with the Joneses, remember, the Joneses are in debt!

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