2. Home All Day

It’s the question I came to dread: “So… what’d you do today?”

The intent was innocent. My wife comes home after a hard day’s work, and she wants to know how my day was. She wants to forget the meetings she sat through and the hassles she endured, and hear about the serene life of her retired husband. She’s retiring in a few months herself, and wants to hear how wonderful it is, to help her hang in there a few more months.
 
If I had a specific goal for that day – clean out the garage, for example, or go to Costco – I was okay. As long as I accomplished the goal, of course. And as long as I could make it sound like it was a significant task, one that had an impact on the life of the family. “Finally made it to Costco. I don’t know what it is about Costco, it seems like such a major ordeal. My legs are killing me. But now we have enough coffee… and celery… and Scotch… to last for a while. How was your day?”

But there are some days – okay, many days… actually, to be honest, most days – when I don’t have a specific task identified. That’s when I have to improvise. That’s when I feel the guilt.

For this newly retired guy, there are several things to feel guilty about.

After almost 50 years of working tirelessly to earn a living, I’m suddenly not working tirelessly, not earning a living, and not producing or doing anything of value. And because the last 20 of those years were spent as a self-employed writer, I realize that my boss – I – did not provide much of a retirement program for his only employee – me. (My primary retirement program is called “Social Security.” You may have heard of it. It’s that thing that’s going bankrupt.) So the only person bringing home the bacon in this family is my young wife. I just provide creative ways to cook that bacon.

You know what else? I’m intellectually and socially dormant. If I were intellectually curious or socially committed, I’d be spending my newly acquired free time pursuing cultural or humanitarian goals. I’d organize a retired men’s book group. Or go to art appreciation classes to learn about post-deconstructivist impressionism, or how to blow glass. I’d be learning Italian. Or volunteering in hospitals or tutoring programs, knocking on doors campaigning for the candidate who’s going to return the power in this country back to the 99%.

Not only am I not producing income, I’m also not growing as a human being, not helping those less fortunate, and not saving the world.

At the end of most days, I have no activity to report. Maybe I paid the bills, or cut the grass. Or worked on this blog. And then, after all of that was finished (phew!), I had to rest. So I sat and stared out the window. And listened to music. (classical in the morning, jazz in the afternoon) And read New Yorker.

Okay, I have my first post-retirement goal: do something besides retire. Maybe a volunteer job, something that gives structure to my week and meaning to my existence. Something that accomplishes something. And gets me out of the house. Something that helps me feel the difference between Tuesdays and Wednesdays and weekends.

Until that happens, I’ll just continue to dread that question when she walks through the door. And I’ll continue to respond: “Not much, babe. How was your day?”

11 thoughts on “2. Home All Day

  1. It was a pleasure to read your coming of age story, cousin. Your first cousin Virginia (I’m removed once or twice at least) would have been happy to provide you an extensive list of things to do to make a contribution to your community and the world. Unfortunately she’s no longer with us, so I’ll try to channel her. Can septuagenarians be big brothers? Do the Chicago Black Lives Matter activists need body guards? Now that Matt has moved out, perhaps you and Carole could house a homeless family or two? Why not turn your back yard into a community garden? And if all of that sounds a little daunting, why not convert your vehicle into a food truck and distribute gourmet meals to the street people of Oak Park? Just a few ideas for you to consider.

  2. Larry:
    First and foremost congratulations on your retirement. I just wanted you to know that I will be reading your blog with a great deal of interest. I am considering retirement, so anxiously seeing how to avoid going to Costco being the highlight of my day. Thank you for the mentoring.

    Regards, and give my love to your young wife,

    Eric

  3. Lorenzo, I’ve been carefully analyzing you & your situation from my vantage point in STL, and have come to the clear conclusion that you need a job. So…

    PEEJ’S TOP TEN LIST OF POTENTIAL PROFESSIONS FOR LARR…

    10. Pimento Patter. Stand at a conveyor, wait for olives that have their pimentos hanging out, and pat them back in. You can eat the profit sharing.
    9. Store Window Mannequin. Not an interesting job, but wardrobe included. Occasional flirts with public nudity.
    8. Iceberg Mover. Recent developments in Antarctica are calling for a lotta people with ice picks.
    7. Dog Food Taster. Somebody’s gotta do it. Meals included.
    6. Restaurant-In-The-Round Driver. You know, those top-of-the-building revolving restaurants that constantly change scenery? Just need good right turn skills.
    5. Scratcher. You get people where they can’t reach.
    4. Seaweed Garden Tiller. Requires long stretches without breathing.
    3. Molasses Tester. Check for stickiness, sweet and general good ol’ boy appeal.
    2. Custom Pencil Sharpener. Door-to-door service, can also include bread slicing and ketchup consolidation.
    …and, the Number One job pick…
    1. Fortune Cookie Writer. If you don’t like it, eat it and try again.

  4. After reading all the congratulations and practical suggestions, I’m feeling guilty for my snide response and flaming liberal suggestions. Congratulations on your transition from writer-for-hire to writer-for-the-good-of-all. I’ll be tuned in. Some day I hope to retire too.

    1. Guilt. I like that, Cuz. I can use that. But no need for guilt. I enjoyed your prior comment. And your parents were certainly stellar role models on how to retire with dignity and meaningful impact. I miss them.

      1. I miss them too. I’m glad you received my comment in the spirit it was intended. I look forward to reading your reflections on life and our times (and how you spend your time). My love to your young wife as well.

  5. Too much free time can be just as draining as not enough free time. On the odd occasion that a vacation feels long and drawn out, and not relaxing and revitalizing as it should, all I end up wanting to do is sleep; which makes me sleepier. Finding something to do that you can do on your own terms with no strings is as important early in a career as it is in retirement!

  6. Cousin,
    I enjoyed your first two installments of retirement writing. Given I am so many many many years away from retirement, it’s interesting to see your perspective. I think Madeline and Peej have excellent ideas. Seeing how I am not as witty as they are, I have a humble suggestion. Record books for the library. The benefit would be twofold. You would help those unable to see/read and you would quite possibly read a good book. Your Midwestern accent would be a nice fit.

    Keep writing.

    April

  7. Larry…I see retirement looming the windshield I know I need a hobby so I am not opening a bottle of wine at 3pm…not that there is anything wrong with that! I have started a list of hobbies to persue…not sure which ones will win out. Looking seriously at watercoloring, stained glass window art, volunteering (not sure where or for what. That is my short list. I have many years (maybe 4) to ponder the list and grow it, so we’ll have to see what happens in the future.

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