November 18, 2008

Act IV - Just Who Do You Think You ARE?

I'm a real success, I am.

In 1967 -- I had begun college two years previously -- I switched my major from Pre-Dental to WineWomen&Song. Wise move. I flunked out. Vietnam was heating up, and I'd lost my student deferment. I had disppointed my parents. I needed to straighten up.

Every male I knew who was eligible for the draft fled to the National Guard, Air Force, Coast Guard (although in those days, coasts to guard were pretty sparse around Kansas City) and the Navy. Dad knew the local Navy recruiter and as a "favor," he "squeezed me in" under the 120-day delay plan.

So, I had three months in which to practice my college major without the pressures of formal classes. Studying was a breeze. Being the altruist I was, I served my fellow citizens during that time by contributing to their financial well being by supporting every 3.2 beer bar in Kansas City, KS, that I could find.

Then on Jan.4, 1968, my studies were interrupted. I reported to the Selective Service office for induction. They tested us, physicaled us and swore us in. Then, I took my first airplane ride, to the U.S. Navy Recruit Training Center, San Diego. Three days later, incidentally, the mailman delivered my draft notice to my parent's house.

For more than a year, Uncle Sam taught me disipline, initiative and seamanship, among other things, in boot camp -- and educated me in electronics in tech schools. Then, he sent me to a communication station outside San Juan, Puerto Rico. I quickly applied all I had learned up to then, especially the seamanship.

I discovered how inexpensive the booze was at the base Enlisted Men's Club, the best ways to remain upright when partying for days on end, and found the best places in Old San Juan for alcohol-fueled benders. Let's see...oh, yeah. I worked some, too, largely repairing teletype. I was the best TTY man on the island. Really had 'em snowed.

And there, I applied my seamanship. Five other guys and I chartered a small fishing boat one day and went deep-sea fishing eight miles out in the Caribbean. In all my time in the Navy, I NEVER got seasick. Okay, that once I did feel pretty queazy most of the day... Okay, REAL queazy. But I never hurled! (Also, in all my time in the Navy, that was the closest I got to going to sea. But that wasn't MY fault!)

During my enlistment, I spent anywhere from five weeks to six months, depending on my orders, in Norfolk, VA; Washington, DC; Winter Harbor, ME; Nicosia, Cyprus (Twice. I really liked it there); Rota, Spain; Bremerhaven, Germany; and Edzell, Scotland (I LOVED it there!). Also I experienced short visits to London, Paris, Rome, Frankfurt, Athens, Lucerne and Amsterdam.

I made some lifelong friends and had some memorable, if not exactly wonderful, experiences. I also got some great stories to tell; one of these days, I may use them in a book. You couldn't get me back in the Navy, though, if they gave me an aircraft carrier!

Then, in '73, having sown almost all the wild oats in my possession and given myself more-than-ample opportunity to become a full-blown alcoholic, I left Uncle Sam's service. Early, for school. Two years later, 10 years after high school, I earned my bachelor's degree at Central Missouri State University. There, I met tolerant and loving Patmywife of 33-plus years. She was so shy, so quiet, so sweet. I've often wondered what changed her....

In 1976, I fulfilled my mom and dad's dream when I earned a master's degree from The American University in Washington, DC. After that, Patmywife and I returned to the Midlands, where I eagerly jumped into the newspaper business. Two degrees in hand, I secured an editorship at a small family-owned newspaper in Missouri, earning a princely sum ... of peanuts. I've toiled since then in newspapers and in public relations. The peanuts are more abundant in the latter, but not THAT abundant.

Now, since Nov. 1, 2008 I am retired, and LOVING it! Unless you've had to feed the big paper beast, you can't know just how wonderful it is not to have deadlines. I think I'm gonna like being a sofa slug!

But maybe I'll just dance....

November 17, 2008

Prologue: A man of leisure? Riiiiight....

That's it, Gang. As of Nov. 1, I am officially retired; an ol' fart out to pasture; a used-up, burnt-out old fool with nothing significant to contribute to society.

Or at least that's what several of the young, ambitious, committed-to-no one-or-nothing-but-him/herself hot shots at the old job apparently think. Certainly, in their eyes, the company for which I toiled for 29-plus years is now shed of one more splinter of dead wood (a debate for another time).

I'm just another old geezer sitting in my recliner with nothing to do but watch Oprah and listen to my arteries clog.


Are you kidding?!

I cannot BEGIN to express how nice it is not to worry about deadlines. Reptilian and demonic, they've been lined up behind me to one degree or another for some 44 years as I've struggled with whatever current task I've had. They jostled and clamored over one another for the next opportunity to sink their teeth into my forehead. They never relaxed that bite, either, until I had offered up sufficient of my sweetmeats to sate their hunger.

Moreover, even before I could force one deadline from my back, another would pounce and start pulling at my gut. Then, I'd immediately have to begin gathering enough of my labors' fruits to satisfy this next one, too. Constantly, I felt their endless writhing queue behind me.

Early on, deadlines were infrequent visitors. One would just sort of saunter up and lull me into procrastination.

"Don't mind me," it would purr. "You have plenty of time."

Then, as days shrank to hours shrank to minutes, the deadline would whisper over my shoulder.

"Time's passing," it would hiss insistently. Then with an oily smile, "But you work best under pressure. Plenty of time."

Before long, the demon took to pounding the back of my eyes, clawing my stomach and screeching, "Move it, Jerk. Look at the clock. You better get your ass in gear!"

At the same time, coworkers, bosses, friends would drop by smiling and add their demands to the deadline's growing weight. That's when beads of blood would dot my forehead as I strained to come up with that perfect sentence, best approach or most appropriate action. And not a single deadline would care if those added distractions had joined them on my shoulders and clamored for attention. In fact, the devilish deadlines had seemed to invite them.

Moreover, the current deadline would remain, claws lodged between my shoulderblades, forcing, ordering, pushing me into panic. I did, too. Often.

Maybe I've exaggerated my relief a bit. Nevertheless, the deadline horde now finally has turned to someone else: my successor (lucky him). I don't have to feed it any more.

Now, I can rise whenever I want (I choose 5:30 or 6 a.m.), shave and shower whenever I want ( shower daily, shave most days), grow a ponytail if I choose (gawd, I DON'T!), and be as active as I please.

Oh. And I plan to get after all those little hunnydoos, many of which I've neglected for years, that insist on scurrying around our house. There goes one now! STOMP! Got 'im.


Maybe, instead, I'll learn to dance....

October 8, 2008

Chapter XXXVIII - Send in the Clones

As Gladys Knight and her Pips sang, lo, those many years ago, we're gettin' "right down to the real nitty gritty," folks.

Only 24 days left until retirement! I don't want to seem anxious or anything, but I AM READY!!! I've had to meet deadlines for, let's see, 44 years or so, and I'll be happier than a puppy in a roomful of rubber balls not to have to worry about them anymore.

Of course, some people think that when one retires, one stops any sort of activity whatsoever, shrivels up and then dies. In my humble opinion, those are the individuals who live to work rather than work to live. Most of my career, I have enjoyed what I have done for a living, but generally I am a work-to-liver. Early on, I was a work-to-appendix, then a work-to-gall-bladder, but after a time I got promoted....

My friend James says he'll never retire; he couldn't stand doing nothing all day. I tell him I probably won't be able to stand doing nothing all day, too, but I'm certainly open minded and willing to give it a try -- at least for a couple of weeks or until Patmywife gets fed up with having to vacuum me off the furniture every second Thursday and flyswatters me into moving from the recliner to the sofa. Whichever comes first. Plus, I tell James, I'm not retiring just so I'll never have to move another muscle again. I'm retiring to focus my muscle movement on other things.

I want to write the Great American Novel, or if not that, perhaps the mediocre Norwegian crotch book. I want to pass along to young people my vast storehouse of experience in ways NOT to do things. I want to learn to speak Spanish that's at least a little more acceptable for polite company than what I picked up in the clubs in Old San Juan. I want to make love under the palms among the sand fleas on the beach in Isla Roatan -- preferably to Patmywife.

Or, maybe we can just dance....

July 9, 2008

Chapter VIII-4/5: Thinking about the R-word

Pat (my wife) and I have been talking about retirement for probably 10 or 11 years.

We've cussed, discussed, dressed, addressed and undressed all sorts of plans for what we do or do not want to do when we lock our office doors -- or in her case, vacate the cubicle -- for the last time and shuffle off into geezerhood. We had created a pretty definite set of wanna-dos we planned to pursue in retirement.

Then, about three years ago, it hit me: We were making all these plans and had absolutely no earthly idea if they were doable! So we went seeking some help. A financial advisor is what we needed! Someone who could wave his or her magic wand and make some of the uncertainty vanish!

We called what was then, if I remember correctly, American Express Financial. It had been the company that managed our 401-k at work and had seemed to have done a pretty good job. They assigned us a 23 or 24-year-old kid, well-intentioned and smart enough, but still wet behind the years. Patmywife laid back her ears, hissed loudly at him and glared. I could tell right away she didn't think much of him.

He ran away. Not right away, but by our scheduled third meeting. The financial company wanted to assign us another kid, but we held out for an advisor almost as close to geezerhood as us. We did the right thing. At least, it feels right so far.

But if the wheels come off. we can always dance....

June 30, 2008

Chapter VI-7/8

I was born a poor black child....

Yeah, yeah, hold on, hold on! I know I'm not black, but if it was good beginning for Navin P. Johnson ("The Jerk"), it's good enough for me.
Besides, I'm black under my fingernails. That counts for something, doesn't it? And I was born poor--and a child.

Ahh, but let's not quibble. This is my very first blog, and I need to get on with it. After all, I'm a busy, busy man, and I have stuff to do: like wax the cat, and change the oil in Uncle Harry.

I've been thinking about doing some writing for sometime now, 30 years or so. But I've always been too busy or lazy, or had something else going on, or been too lazy, or the time just wasn't right, or I was too lazy.... You get the picture. I've always said I would one day write about all the things that have happened to me, and all my memories.

Last year, I had a milestone birthday, and day before yesterday, it hit me: My senior moments are off daylight saving time now. Just how am I gonna write about all those things when I can't remember that for which I just came into this room?

So, I thought I'd better get to hustling. Thus, this blog.

It may develop into the rantings of a madman, the ramblings of a dribbling ol' codger, or the profound revelations of a modern mental wizard (although my money's on NOT the wizard). Who knows? Anyway, here goes.

Whatever this becomes, I'm gonna have a good time with it--and maybe you who are bored enough to have searched long enough to have stumbled upon this blog, and I, will have an occasional meaningful interchange.

Then again, we can always dance....