There is a quote tacked above my computer screen from Robert Juarroz that says, “I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”
Since I turned 67 in July, I have been hearing not only the sound of my straining bones, but also the groaning of my ligaments, the weary sighs of my muscles and the occasional shriek of a vital organ. Amid all that internal clatter, and after nearly three years working from a small desk in my daughter’s lime-green childhood bedroom, my mind turns ever more frequently these days to the question of retirement.
I’ve been working since I got my first job as a busboy in a pie shop when I was 16. I made $1.65 an hour to start, and after a six-month trial period, I was bumped up to $2.10 an hour. I don’t know how I ever got along without that extra 45 cents an hour.
If you thought that after 50 years of working I’d have accumulated enough money to retire comfortably, you’d be wrong. I’m not really sure where all the money went. I do have a theory. The other day I heard someone on TV say that squirrels can’t find 80% of the acorns they squirrel away for winter. If you’ve ever discovered a stash of hidden acorns in the bottom of your work boots or in a pocket on your golf bag or under the hood of your car then you have no doubt that this is true.
I’m thinking maybe that’s what happened to all the money; I squirreled it away and just can’t remember where.
A year or so ago the woman who is my wife and I finally spoke to a financial advisor about how soon we might realistically retire. He looked at our financial situation, crunched some numbers, and then said if we were serious about retiring in a year or so, Wendy and I would first have to decide which one of us would be wearing the ski mask and which one would drive the getaway car. I think he may have been kidding, but on those days when the lure of retirement calls to me I think his idea might not be a bad one, particularly if I can arrange to serve my time in a minimum-security prison in Hawaii.
Since that sobering discussion, the balance in my retirement plan at work has been largely stagnant, with the cost of living being the only thing that has been on the rise. Fortunately, my company’s retirement program is only one of the Four Pillars of my Personal Retirement Plan. The other Three Pillars are (i) targeted, strategic and measured investment in state Lottery futures; (ii) the possibility of discovering oil, gold and/or the remains of Jimmy Hoffa in my back yard; and (iii) reliance on the kindness of strangers.
It’s all too bad since this seems like the best possible time to get out of the job market and into a pair of old shorts and head out to the deck or to a chair near the woodstove and dig into a good book and a nice pinot noir. We all know friends orcolleagues who are in a financial position to retire right now but have opted not to do so because they like their jobs and are afraid that they’ll be bored by retirement or else worry that their retirement may be more like the end of the road rather than the beginning of an open highway.
Now, there are a lot of things that cause me anxiety, but worrying about not having enough to do in my retirement is not one of them. In fact, I spend many of my waking hours organizing my future days or retirement to be sure I’ll have time to fit in all the cool things I want to do when I finally hang up my shingle.
In the expectation of finding some of my missing acorns and the hope of starting my retirement sooner rather than later, I’ve begun practicing some of the skills I think I’ll need to see me through my reclining years. For example, I’ve assembled a nice collection of mismatched socks, faded shorts and decrepit baseball caps to wear whenever I leave the house. I never drive over 30 miles an hour anymore, and I make sure to leave my left-turn signal on at all times. I’m close to mastering the art of eating dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon and waking up at 4:30 in the morning. I’m also trying to improve my curmudgeon skills by spending at least a half hour every evening whining about all these new-fangled electronic gizmos that are supposed to make life easier but seem instead to have just the opposite effect.
Wish me luck. See you all soon for an early dinner at Denny’s.
Tom Tyner writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper.