Labor Day

            Labor Day Weekend already. The year is flying by. While I like that my retirement target date is coming quickly, I don’t want to be wishing my life away. That being said, I have only around 85 days of work left. You know, if I was counting.

            As the days of work come to an end, I can’t help but think back on the jobs I’ve had over the years. Most of them have been outdoors, working on golf courses and doing grounds work. I’ve also worked in a large power plant, done some stints in retail, been on a snowmaking crew at a ski resort.

            Just last night, my wife and I were talking about how some people seem to know what they want from an early age and have enormous success while others never seem settled, many struggle through life, some have success in their field but don’t have happiness. We pondered what it is that causes those experiences. Is it the person’s personality, their upbringing, encouragement—or the lack of—from parents and others? How is it that one person sits at a piano at three years old and seems to already know how to play while another never finds the place in life that feels like it’s theirs? Why do some people always find themselves at the right place at the right time while others never find themselves at all? I don’t have the answers to those questions.

            Life is filled with potential and possibility and determined by the choices we make. It’s also filled with excuses, justifications, rationalizations, fear of failure, the need for security, and a whole lot of other things that get in the way. And, yes, I’m speaking from experience. It’s easy to look back and say, “if that person had been more encouraging,” or “if that circumstance had been better,” or, “if I had spoken up at that time, boy, would things be different.” It’s easy to say those things because I don’t have to go back and prove things would be any different. Any better.

            I can also look back and know I found a place that suited me—many places, in fact. I liked my work, I worked hard, I did a good job. There’s not a job I’ve held that I am ashamed for the quality of work I did. Even those jobs I didn’t like. Sure, there’ve been times I could have done better. But for the most part, I’m happy with my work.

There have been many positive evaluations, a few lunkhead bosses, an interesting cast of characters with whom I worked, lots of laughs, the occasional blowup, and uncountable times of looking on a completed job with a satisfied smile.

            So, on this Labor Day, I can look back on my years of labor (and count the days until that part of life is over) with gratitude, contentment, and the sense of a job well done.

Shared Experiences

            With this Covid thing going on, I think people are more aware of cleanliness and safety. We maintain distance and wear masks, wash hands, get vaccinated, and do all the other stuff we’re so tired of hearing about. We don’t want to catch it ourselves or share it with anyone else. As the advertisements say, We’re all in this together.

            I’m no germophobe, but there are things I was doing long before Covid entered our lives. Wiping off the handle of the grocery cart is something I’ve done forever. Being more cautious during cold and flu season just makes sense to me. Washing fruits and vegetables before eating or peeling them. Avoiding situations in which there’s a strong possibility of catching something.

            I’ve never been a fan of salad bars or hot food bars. When I see people in the grocery store taste-testing grapes or cherries I cringe. There is no way of knowing what chemicals are on the fruit, who walked by coughing or sneezing, who had handled them previously and where that person’s hands had been.

            And it’s not just the produce aisle. You’re constantly sharing with others. If you start thinking of all the places you touch that countless others have touched before you, it could drive you crazy. At some point you must trust your common sense and immune system. As I said, I’m no germophobe, but I ponder these things.

            However, one thing that makes me shudder is when I see certain cashiers counting money. He or she will be counting out a stack of bills. They’ll count out a few, lick their thumb or finger, count out some more, lick again, and continue.

            Years ago, in a place I used to live, there was a strip club around the corner and down the road a piece. I never went there but some fellows I worked with went every Friday after work and loved to talk about it. They’d stop by the bank or grocery store along the way and get a bunch of singles for their visit. Later, the strippers would remove the bills from the various cracks, crevices, and clothing. They’d either spend it or take the money to the bank, where it would be redistributed.

Whenever I see a cashier licking their finger as they count money I can’t help but wonder what experiences they’re sharing with all the others who had used that bill before them.

            We may all be in this together, but there are some experiences I don’t want to share.

Check It Out

            I recall the days when people wrote checks. I’d be standing in the quick lane with my one or two items behind someone who had a cartful of groceries, often chatting away with the cashier while their order was rung up, bagged, and put in the cart. Then, once all of that was completed, she would finally open her purse and dig through it to find her checkbook.

“Oh, where is that thing?” she’d cry and look innocently at me.

Finally, she’d find it and flip through the pages to a new check.

“What’s todays date?” she’d write it in. “And that was how much?” she’d write it in, slowly tear the check along the perforated line, and give the check to the cashier.

“Ma’am, you forgot to sign your check.”

“Oh, how stupid of me,” she’d laugh.

‘That’s the truth,’ I’d mutter, pondering self-righteously how before I left the house, I had my check fully made out and signed, needing only the amount to be filled in.

It’s so much easier now, with fewer people writing checks, using debit cards instead. Now, as I wait behind someone with a full load of groceries in the quick lane, after chatting with cashier, they can pull out their debit card and punch in a bunch of numbers that don’t work. After which, they rifle through their purse to find that little notebook in which is hidden a small piece of paper covered with PIN numbers and passwords.

“That’s the one,” she says triumphantly as she pounds the keys.

“Ma’am, your card has been declined.”

“Oh, dear, let me write you a check . . .”

Not An Exit

            This morning thoughts of my own mortality came to mind. Probably because my wife and I have been discussing retirement and that’s a subject that can only be avoided for so long. They were nothing particularly dark or depressing. Just thoughts. I wonder sometimes how and when. Hope it’s quick. Hope it’s not too soon.

            Then I think about someone having to go through my stuff and dispose of it in whatever way. Is there anything they’ll find that would be embarrassing? (Would I even be embarrassed if I was dead?) Anything I need to get rid of so no one ever knows? Anything that would make them say, “I had no idea!” Probably not. My life hasn’t exactly been one of drama and intrigue.

            I suspect the one thing that might make someone wonder about me is if they read through my journals. All the self-questioning, the doubts, the insights, the complaints, the realizations. They’d probably wonder how I functioned day to day with all that stuff going through my mind. I wonder sometimes how I function with all the stuff that goes through my mind. I guess that’s why I journal every day—and have for many, many years. It’s my therapy. My outlet for things internal and external. Once I question something, look at it closely, shine a spotlight on it, it often shows itself to be much smaller than it was when I was bouncing it around in my head.

            That includes my mortality. I made a few observations about it in my journal this morning, wrote down a few thoughts, then went on to other things. No one gets out of here alive. While I’m still here, I’ll make the best of it.

Classic

            The first time I gave my age any real thought I was driving, listening to a classic rock station, and they played a song from my high school days. “This is supposed to be a classic rock station,” I screeched. “That song isn’t old enough.” After a little more thought and with a heavy sigh I muttered, “maybe it is old enough. Maybe I’ve become a classic.”

            I also recall the first time a song came on a station popular with younger people and heard myself say, “they call that music?” Then, “Oh, god, I’ve turned into my father! Maybe I am getting older.” I determined then and there I would never again use that phrase and if a song came on that sparked that thought, I would simply change the station. Nothing against my father, but I didn’t want to be one of those kids-these-days guys.

            Now so-called classic rock radio stations play music that came along well after I left high school. Music I don’t even recognize. Never heard. Much of it I don’t like and isn’t what I call rock. And there are the endless commercials. Nothing worse than having to listen to music you don’t like interspersed with annoying commercials.

            Fortunately, with technology, I don’t have to listen to any music I don’t want to. With music services I get to create my own channels, pick the songs I want to hear, dismiss those I don’t, and not have to experience commercials at all. And the channel doesn’t have to have a name that suggests how many years it’s been since the songs were released.

Most importantly, I don’t have to hear some obnoxious DJ telling me this is classic rock when it clearly isn’t old enough.

Uplifting

            I recently read an article about a 78 year old woman who deadlifts 400 pounds. She started lifting at the age of 65 and continues to break records for her age group.

            Hearing about things like this encourages me. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe age has to be anything more than the number of years a person has been in the physical life. Clearly, this woman doesn’t allow age to be a barrier. She doesn’t listen to the naysayers. Doesn’t buy into the stereotypes, not only of age, but of gender.

I suspect there are people around her who attempt to discourage her. Whenever a person pushes limits, there are those who try to hold them back. I have to wonder if those people don’t like someone showing them what they could be doing. It makes them feel uncomfortable. Maybe makes them feel lazy or under-achieving. It raises the bar—literally and figuratively. Most people are quite content with their bar where it is and don’t like some upstart raising it.

            In the fall of 2019, I took a part time grounds keeping job with the county in which I live. The job includes working on ball fields. We have portable pitcher’s mounds that are removed when the dirt infield needs to be worked. Some of them are large and heavy and take four people to lift. When I started working, I struggled to help lift those heavier mounds. I literally felt like I wasn’t carrying my fair share.

            We have a multi-station weight machine at home. That’s one of those with a couple of weight stacks and a bunch of cables and, depending on which part you use, you can work most any part of your body. I got to work.

            One of the disadvantages to a weight machine is that it can’t adjust to every person. It pivots where it pivots, swings where it swings, pulls where it pulls. The person using the machine has to adjust to it and that doesn’t always work. I decided I needed free weights. I got a weight bench, a long bar and curl bar and weights, later a squat rack and dumbbells.

Turns out, I like weightlifting. I like the workout. I like how it feels to have hard muscles rather than soft. I like that my muscles feel tender because I’m working them, rather than because they don’t get used enough. And I like the idea that my chest sticks out farther than my belly—and not because of man-boobs.

I’ll never be the Hulk—and I don’t want to be. Green isn’t my best color, anyway. I’m not looking to compete or oil up my body and strut across a stage. I don’t point at myself in the mirror and say, “hey, lookin’ good.” I do like how it feels to be able to lift things without the struggle.

            I don’t expect to break any records as the previously mentioned woman does. I don’t deadlift half of what she does. It hurts my back just to think of deadlifting 400 pounds! And I’m not nearly her age. But maybe I can be an example. Maybe someone will be encouraged by what I do as I was by her. Maybe someday I’ll have my own set of naysayers telling me I shouldn’t be lifting at my age.

Words

            Writing has always been my first love. In school I was l always ready to write something—story, book report, current events report, extra credit report to make up for not doing math homework. I’ve always enjoyed writing.

As a young teen, like many that age, there were times I felt I wasn’t being treated well and wanted to run away. Even at that age, I knew if I ran away, I would end up back home, having to face my father, and things would be much worse than when I left. Instead, I wrote my first story. It was about a kid who ran away. He had all kinds of fun and adventures of the kind I would have liked. He hiked through forests, floated down rivers, raced around on go-karts. After a while, the urge to run away would fade and the notebook would be tucked away into the desk. When the urge to flee returned, out came the notebook and the story continued.

Since then, I have written thousands of pages. I have a rough first draft completed of a young adult fantasy fiction novel, as well as many pages of notes for eight or nine more stories in the series. I also have an almost completed first draft of a historical fiction/romance, along with many pages of notes for half a dozen more stories in that series. I have pages and pages just of ideas for stories—plot ideas, character descriptions, snippets of conversation, bad jokes, good comebacks, sad tales, life experiences, etc. All of these either have sparked—or I expect will spark—a storyline. I figure I’ll have to live to around 250 years old just to write the stories I have ideas for right now. And the more I write, the more ideas come to me. I can’t even imagine what writer’s block is like.

Unfortunately, I’ve never done anything with all that writing. The whole notion of security and practicality (both of which are other words for fear), that need for a job, a weekly paycheck, kept me from pursuing writing. Plus, I lacked the confidence when I was younger to try and make something of my writing. I didn’t believe in myself, that I could write something worthwhile, or that anyone would want to publish my writing. When you don’t believe in yourself, you are easily distracted and things like work—the job—can become an excuse to not have time to write.

There are many platforms now available to publish. Add to that a little more confidence, a little less concern about what others think, and a strong desire to speak my piece, and my time has come. So, for the time being, you’re stuck with me. That is, if you keep reading this blog. And if something doesn’t distract me—oh, look, there goes a squirrel.

Relief, At Last

            My retirement has been set. February of 2022 is the end of work—if I stick around that long. That’s the worst-case scenario. I’d love to find a way to go before that but if not, that’s it.

            The original plan was that I would work until I could get full Social Security, at 66 and six months. That would have meant an additional year and a half of working. My wife will retire once I turn 65 and am eligible for Medicare, as she carries our health insurance. She didn’t want to retire and have me working for another year and a half. For some reason, she likes having me around. So, I gave in and agreed to retire earlier. Such a sacrifice.

            I can’t wait!

I’m not one of those who identified with my job. I’ve liked many of the jobs I’ve worked over the years. Liked some of the people I worked with. Work was much more of a necessity than an identity. I’ve heard of many people being lost once they don’t work anymore. Not me! I have so much going on that the job interferes with that I can’t wait for that last day. Good Riddance, work! I’ve paid my dues—literally and figuratively.

            Of course, now that that date has been determined, it can’t come soon enough. It’s like those times you’re driving home from somewhere and you have to pee. You’re holding it fine until you hit the driveway. It’s like your bladder knows you’re home and it insists on release NOW. It’s all you can think about. That’s when you trip as you get out of the car, you can’t find your keys and when you finally do, you drop them on the ground. Now, you’re at the door but the key won’t go into the lock. You’re clenching your teeth—as well as other body parts—just trying to hold on as you force the key into the slot. At last, it turns and the door opens. You drop everything and run. Ahhh. Relief. At last.

Yup. That’s what it feels like. I’m at the door of retirement and can’t get the key to go into the lock. All I can think about is being done with work. Now I just want relief.

Aging Gratefully

          It’s funny how the “set point” of what we consider old changes as the years pass. I recall in my teens thinking how old 30 sounded. Then, as I got into my late 20’s, 30 wasn’t old, but 40 was, then 50, then 60. Now that 60 is in my rearview mirror, the number that hits me as old is maybe somewhere in the 90’s. I have friends in their 70’s. My oldest brother will be 67 in a few months. Mom is 92. But these days, I think less about what is considered old.

            Every stage of life has its expectations or concerns for the coming decade or even the next year. It’s different for everyone, of course. When I was in my 20’s, I expected that by the 30’s I’d have my place in the work world, become established, settle down, get married, have children, do all the things families do. The 40’s were vaguely out there but seemingly distant. A continuation of the 30’s with family and work highlighting life. At that time, I didn’t think much about the 50’s, or 60’s. Mom and dad were in those years. I couldn’t imagine that far ahead.

            Virtually nothing came about as I had imagined. I got married in my mid-20’s. We weren’t able to have children. We’ve lived in several places, made some big moves, ended up far from family. I’ve worked a number of jobs, some full time, some part time; tried a bunch of things, experienced layoffs, never climbed any corporate ladder. I’ve been employed, unemployed, self-employed, underemployed. While I worked hard, tried to do a good job, I seldom felt satisfied. It was just a job.

            It took many years to realize that climbing some corporate ladder isn’t for everyone—and to stop feeling like a failure because it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t suited for an office or cubicle or suit and tie. Too confining for me. I like the outdoors and that’s where I’ve spent most of my working life. Golf courses, lawn care, grounds keeping. That’s the work I like.

            I’m still working. I now work for the county in which we live—on the grounds maintenance crew. While I work mostly full-time hours, officially I’m part time/seasonal. Now, I watch the young guys looking for their place in life. They pick on me for being old. I smile and give it back knowing I wouldn’t trade places with them even if I could.

The new set point isn’t an age, it’s retirement—and that’s less than a year away. As with every other time in my life, I have certain expectations for retirement. Certain hopes and dreams. Also, as with every other time in my life, I’m certain things will not go as expected.