Friday, November 4, 2016

Thin Ice or Thick Water?

I’ve been dilly-dallying about closing a chapter in my life and starting another as I round third heading for home in turning sixty-five years (incredibly and unbelievably) old in April. I can remember turning ten and cracking wise with my grandparents (mom’s Mom and Dad) on the phone about ‘being almost old enough to collect Social Security’ and my father on the other side of the kitchen muttering ‘first you have to go to work.’ 

Check and check, Dad. Oh, that’s right you missed most of it. It’s okay. We had two kids you never met but I think you would’ve liked them; they’re grown-ups now and I’ve grown to be older than you ever were. We ended up leaving Germany a quarter of a century ago, as the two nations were officially becoming one as I recall, settling (and I mean that in every sense of the word) in the southeastern corner of Connecticut.  

It’s weird how lives work out in real-time sometimes despite what you think will happen. I was on line the other day and a friend from my Germany days who retired about a year ago mentioned in a post on the passing of someone he knew, and I knew of, about the passing of a third person with whom we had both worked.

Phil, not that I ever called him anything other than “Major,” had died of a heart attack near the end of September so I was awfully late to the website memorial but, from my limited first-hand experience I think all memorials are for surviving friends and acquaintances rather than family members. They certainly aren’t for the deceased.

It’s feeling a lot like Joseph Heller’s Closing Time as I’m surrounded by reminders I’ve really stayed too long at the fair and am now waiting as our son, who makes his living as a financial counselor, looks at the limited assets and resources I’ve collected in nearly five decades playing a grown-up on and off television to tell me the moment I can stop giving my time to total strangers and have it for my wife and myself.

It will come not a tick too soon as I’ve developed a deepening dislike for what I do to earn a living and the people with whom I do it (as an abstraction; I still like them as people well enough, at least for now) and from the time I get up I have a countdown clock measuring when I can come home.

My son is being very careful because his father is ridiculously thick-headed and once I’m pointed in a direction, I will not turn around or change course, no matter what happens. And that’s precisely the part he worries about because I have long since understood that I won’t have the dollars a full-time job offers and will instead, have acres of free time.

It’s that notion that most scares me I think. It’s ironic that a Fallen Away Roman Catholic, a FARC, would be the poster child for the Protestant Work Ethic, but here I am irony and all. I define who I am by what I do.  I am Sigrid’s husband and I am Patrick and Michelle’s father. 

It’s getting used to the idea of being a ‘was’ in terms of employment that’s rattling me and I don’t mean the job itself I mean the idea of going to work and doing work every day. I read all the time about guys who retire and died within a year; gold watch is still under warranty and they’re under the ground.

I assumed we’d be looking to move after retirement to someplace less expensive-sort of an abstraction that got suddenly very real earlier this week when my wife told me she’d been called by the people who own the house in which we rent an apartment, and who are about ten years older than I am, that they will drop by today to talk about selling the house, making that desultory moving discussion a more urgent priority.


We’ve lived in our house (apartment) for twenty-five years (actually I have; I paid rent for a month before she and the children arrived from Germany which included two weeks when I didn’t know how to find the house and slept in my car or in my office) and are long past the point where we are possessed by our possessions, we are consumed by them.

We have a house full of stuff, in the George Carlin sense of the word and a basement filled with past lives that I know I never thought about walking away from but will start to consider that carefully now. If the house is sold we may have to move unless the new owners like my wife (they won’t like me, no one does and the feeling is reciprocated) and the rent isn’t too much more than it is now.

But if we end up moving I wonder if I should retire earlier than I had planned so that we only move once more to someplace we’d intend to live out the rest of our lives (and that will most certainly not be where we are now). I always define home to be where my heart, the woman I love, is. Now I may have to learn to speak “Zillow.”

I’ve lived the way a horse runs, looking no more than one footfall ahead of where I am. Explains why I’ve suddenly gone over cliffs so frequently and yet always with a look of total and complete surprise.
-bill kenny

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