Friday, July 5, 2013

It's Friday Already?

I think it is good to surprise yourself, if even in a negative way. This is my fifth day of retirement. I’m still not used to the fact that I get so few e mails, and I find myself thinking about what may be happening in my office. So I certainly haven’t settled into retirement. I figure after five days I’m just flirting with the concept at this point. But I was caught off guard by my reaction to a friend’s e mail yesterday. Let me set this up a little.

It may be natural for working people to envy the retired, but I don’t think I envied them in a big way. Retired people, mostly board members, would drop into my office from time to time and ask what was going on; at YSB, in the community, or with state politics. They would ask in a fairly detached way, as if it was impossible for them to know because they were out of the loop. Often they did this after being gone for long periods of time in the winter. They looked tan and relaxed. Anything I told them was met with, it seemed to me, only idle interest. They would shake their heads and laugh at the State of Illinois’ budget, whereas I was sweating blood at the prospect of making cuts caused by the legislature’s countless proposals to slash human services. But I understood. I really did.

Most of the retired people I encountered were, when engaged in gainful employment, very involved and equally concerned as I about the sorry state of government, our priorities as a society, and how it affected community life, families, and thus kids. But as retired people those worries were not a part of their everyday thinking. It didn’t mean they weren’t concerned, or actively trying to change what we value and how we behave as people. It was just that their life, and their actions, were to a large extent no longer dependent on such things. When your income is fixed it sounds bad, because it implies it will never go up. We forget that those on fixed incomes are also in situations where their income cannot go down either. Unlike employed people who can be brought into someone’s office on any day, at any hour, and suddenly lose their jobs and thus their incomes America’s retirees, those lucky enough to be able to afford not working, are by and large safe from economic catastrophe. At least the tan relaxed people I remember making their way back to my office in April or so. I begrudged them nothing.

What really made me mad about retired people though, every time, was this. I would be talking to some older person not in the workforce, at church, in the office, or in the store and the topic of some event in the future would arise. It might go like this.

“Hey, are you coming to the Lasagna dinner?”

Yeah I thought I would. When is that?”


“Saturday. Yeah…what is today?”

What is today? Who the hell doesn’t know what day it is? I dread Monday, think about an almost certainly unpleasant Thursday meeting all through Tuesday and Wednesday, have a deadline to meet on Friday, can’t wait to make it to Saturday when I finally have a little time to myself and then start feeling anxious about Monday again like clockwork starting about 7:00 p.m. Sunday, and you don’t know what day it is? This week I’ve been to four offices in four towns, worked two nights, had three long conference calls and a board meeting and you don’t know what day it is? You smug booger you. I’m dying here just to make it to Friday night and you smile and ask me what day it is? Are you kidding me? Are you saying that just to make me mad?

But would I react to the dumb question and the smiling vacant face across from me? No I wouldn’t. I’d respond in a friendly way.

“Today is Wednesday.”

“Oh, yeah. I lose track. When you’re retired every day is like Saturday you know?”

Sometimes I would manage a smile and sometimes I wouldn’t. But I always got mad and I never got used to the unfairness, the inequity, the downright wrongness of having so much time you didn’t know what day you were living. I remembered it from my days travelling. Sometimes in a foreign country I would go out into a town trying to buy one thing or another, or to find a Laundromat, and find everything was closed because it was Sunday. But I had absolutely forgotten how that felt. And I wanted it back. I wanted so much to have the luxury of time, to gain that relaxed state of being in which there exists no urgency in anything, that everything can be done and when it is done matters little or not at all.

Flash to yesterday. I’d watered my garden (mostly tomatoes and hot peppers), put up some tomato stakes my friend had left for me earlier in the week, read some, and taken a giant nap. We were having a friend over for a drink around 4:00 and leaving at 7:30 for a party on the river where we would watch Ottawa’s terrific fireworks display. Sometime in there I had to take a shower. But first I checked my e mail in the shack. There was a message from Ann in Chicago about various things, horseradish, going out East, other stuff. Nice newsy e mail. She ended it with this.

“Make sure I’m on your e mail list. I can’t wait for tomorrow to read your first post YSB Friday update.”

Tomorrow? Tomorrow is Friday? I looked at the calendar. It still showed June so I flipped it to July. There it was. July 4th. Thursday. What happened? I ran through the week.

Sunday I was still technically employed. If the manure had hit the rotating blades of the YSB fan, so to speak, I could have been called Sunday night to weigh in on some situation. Monday I was down at the church and got that call that took me away. Tuesday I had a good day revising the partial draft of the novel, I listened to the Cubs game, fell asleep when they were ahead 7-5 and found out in the morning they’d lost 8-7. Wednesday. What happened Wednesday? A lot of reading and another big nap. It might have rained. Wednesday was sort of lost. And now it’s Thursday? Really? I’ll have to write my update in the morning.

So forgive me. In five short days I’ve become that retired person I loathed when I worked. It doesn’t take long. No deadline looms. Not one meeting to dread. Not an issue to agonize over or a decision to put off anywhere on the horizon. Forgive me or congratulate me. It’s all in how you look at it. I hope to be, and fully expect to be, lost in time quite often. It’s OK. I like it that way. I’ll try hard not to ask you what day it is.

I could have closed there but let me share this. Sunday in church it was announced that the daily summer lunch program for kids being operated by the YMCA in our church's first floor could use volunteers. It’s a great partnership. They have a big program and we have a big kitchen and dining area. The church is literally across the street from the Y. So I went down about 10:45 Monday. It was my first day of retirement. They were going to serve at 11:30. The menu was meatball subs (pre made meatballs in marinara, nice provolone cheese, good buns needing slicing) salad, and fruit.

“What can I do for you?”

“You want to prepare the fruit?”

“OK. What do you want me to serve?”

“How about the cantaloupe?”

And so I prepared a dozen cantaloupe for 70 or so hungry day campers, from maybe age four through ten. Cut them in two, scoop out the centers, cut them into eight wedges, cut off the rind, chunk the wedges, and throw them in a big plastic bowl. I love doing stuff like that. Another woman was making a salad from scratch and very healthy. It looked like a great lunch. I talked with the other staff as I worked. Then they insisted I stay and eat. Insisted. I was taught, you know, that it’s rude to turn down such offers so I stayed and found myself sitting with six little day campers and a camp counselor at one of those big church folding tables. The kid on my left talked non-stop, mostly about eyeballs and what you could do with them. Fascinating. The rest were hungrier and kept their mouths full. As we were finishing the little guy on my right tapped my arm, looked up at me, and said

“Mister, can I have more of those wet orange chunks?”

“You mean these?” I asked, holding a piece of cantaloupe up on my fork.

“Yeah, those.”

“Do you know what they are?”


“They’re cantaloupe. Some people call them muskmelon. You had them before?”

“No. But I like them.”

“Can he have seconds on the fruit?” I asked the counselor at the table.

“As long as he eats everything else.” I looked down. This kid’s plate was shiny clean, obviously a member of the clean plate club like me.

So I got him more wet orange chunks. Feeding kids good food-it’s not a sophisticated or complicated approach to helping young people, but I think it works well and is important. I’ll go back.

Thanks for reading this first edition of Update from the Shack all the way to the end. Talk to you again next Friday, or a day close to it.

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