AS GOOD AS IT GETS

Sparkling or Still — What’s your idea of a perfect day off: one during which you can quietly relax, doing nothing, or one with one fun activity lined up after the other? Tell us how you’d spend your time.


What day is today? I don’t mean the date. The day of the week. Because I don’t know anymore. That’s life in the slow lane … also known as “retired.”

Me and Cherrie

Unless I have a doctor appointment or errands to run, everyday is a day off. The best ones are those spent in the company of friends, laughing, remembering, sharing. Laughing over things no one else would laugh about, sharing stuff no one else knows about. Or cares.

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And that’s perfect enough for me. I’m not sure there is anything that could improve on that experience … except maybe an infusion of expendable cash and a theme park with killer roller coasters.

THE SATURDAY SCHEDULE

Another Perfect Plan by Harold, A Truly Organized Man

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As usual, Harold awoke before the alarm announced the new day. He laid in bed awaiting the arrival of a new dawn and a new beginning for his perfect schedule.

When the ringing began, Harold looked up and noticed the sun was not attacking the window as usual, but when he went to open the curtains and look out, he discovered it was just a stray cloud that had blocked the sun. It looked like the weather would be better than even Harold, Perfect Predictor of Organizational Outcomes, could imagine .

Mr. CoffeeHe went through his normal routine smoothly. Everything was laid out and prepared the night before to allow for maximum efficiency, so Harold was able to move through each task effortlessly, just as he had planned. When he reached the kitchen, he was pleased to see that the coffee maker was just completing its chore. He had been a bit worried about the coffee since his well used coffee maker had seemed a little sluggish in recent days, but today it was working just like it was new. Harold was certain that it only needed a minor cleaning to be as good as the day he bought it.

When his breakfast was prepared, Harold went to the front door to retrieve the morning paper.  He was ready to hunt around for it as was usually the case, but when he opened the door he found the paper lying at his feet.

“The paper boy must have improved his aim,” Harold thought to himself.  In reality, the “paper boy” was actually a college student at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota where he aspired to greatness at the Van Wetzel Performing Arts Hall.  Harold would never learn this little detail of something that intersected with his daily routine.

As the morning hours passed, Harold began to look forward to his twice weekly trip to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar. He considered this an important part of his Wednesday and Saturday schedules. He dressed in his best, old-fashioned, sports shirt and slacks, found his favorite baseball cap, and made his way to the door in time to make his arrival exactly at the appointed hour.

When he reached his car in the drive way he heard a bit of a commotion down the street. He shot a quick glance down the street fearing his neighbor was headed his way to derail his perfect plan. It was just two old timers, however, talking about the weather or some such time killer and of no importance to Harold. He got into his dependable car and drove away.

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There was no trouble finding a nice parking spot and Harold was able to reach the door way of his favorite eating establishment at the exact moment called for by his schedule.

“Hello Harold,” each staff member called out as he looked for his favorite seat in view of a television screen where sports headlines could be seen all through lunch. He was pleased at his good fortune as he waited for someone to come take his order.

“Why, hello there,” a man bellowed behind Harold. Instantly he feared it was his neighbor, Bill, about to disrupt his well-ordered day. But as the person walked by toward another table, Harold discovered it was no one that he knew. There was no Bill to kill off some of his allotted time at the Sports Bar. Harold smiled at his good fortune.

Soon a waitress arrived at his table. “Hello, Harold,” the familiar voice announced. Much to Harold’s surprise, his favorite waitress was looking right at him, pencil and order pad at the ready.

“Tiffany!” Harold exclaimed. “What happened to the girl with the maroon hair?”

“She didn’t work out,” Tiffany said. “So they asked me to come back. I had been working for them at another restaurant.” Harold was all smiles at this news. As he started to order, Tiffany cut him off.

“I know, you want the soup and sandwich special, and iced tea,” Tiffany said with a smile. At that she headed off to take his order to the kitchen.

When the meal was over, Tiffany brought the check to the table. On the back was a big smiley face drawn by the favorite waitress. As she set it down before Harold, she planted a light peck on his check and declared, “It was good to see you again.” And Harold was happy to see her.

He left a more generous tip than was his custom as he was pleased as to the perfect outcome of his regular lunch. When he got up to leave, every staff member shouted out to Harold, as if he was some sort of celebrity. “See you soon!” And they would see him soon, on Wednesday for the next Soup and Sandwich Special.

As Harold walked to his car he congratulated himself on scheduling the perfect Saturday.

AT THE OLD BALLGAME – RICH PASCHALL

Harold takes a road trip, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Friday was “Fun Day,” or at least that is the way Harold saw it.  It was a day given over to sports.  Harold read all the sports he could in the morning paper.  Watched some on television.  He even made time for high school or college games in the area.  In the late spring and early summer, there was minor league baseball to be seen.  Every Friday could have an appropriate sports theme.

On one particularly nice Friday in the baseball season, Harold decided to drive all the way to St. Petersburg to catch a major league baseball game.  It’s not that the Tampa Bay Rays, who did not play in Tampa, were an exciting team, but the visiting team was making a rare appearance.  Actually, it was Harold’s favorite Midwest team.  The Chicago Cubs and the Rays were having an interleague game and Harold thought that was just about the only reason to drive over an hour to get to a baseball game.

The details of this road trip were laid out in Harold’s computer-like mind the night before.  He knew exactly what to take, when to leave and how long to stay at the park.  It would be a treat to see the park, as Harold had absolutely no reason to make the trip before this.  It would be years before the Cubs would come that way again, so they certainly had to be on Harold’s schedule as well as the Rays’.

St. Petersburg, Florida

St. Petersburg, Florida

Neither team was very good.  In fact the Cubs were in last place and the Rays were not in the running for anything.  The Chicago organization called it a “rebuilding” year, but most years were rebuilding years for the Cubs.

It had been that way since 1908.  Still, Harold had an unexplainable affection for the team so he decided to take the trip. When the appointed hour came, according to his expert calculations, he was off.

He arrived at the parking facility more or less on time and spied the ticket office right away.  There were not a lot of cars as the team needed a winning season to fill the lot, so Harold got a spot close to the ticket windows.  He put up the sunshield in the front window and then added another for the back.

It didn’t matter. The car would be hot when he returned, sunshield or not.  With plenty of time before game time, Harold took a leisurely stroll to purchase his tickets.  He only had to wait behind one person when he heard someone call out.

“Harold?  Harold, is that you?”  It was George, a former colleague from work and his wife Martha.  Whenever he heard their names together it reminded his of a movie or show, but he could not remember which one.

It was not important to him.  George, like many Cub fans, would travel almost anywhere to see the boys in blue play.  Older Cub fans with time on their hands frequently made vacation plans to include a Cubs’ road game.

“Hello, George, Martha,” Harold said, not at all certain he was glad to see them.  “What brings you down here this time of year?  People normally visit in the winter.”  At that, it was Harold’s turn at the ticket window.

Ballgame seating

Ballgame seating

“I need just one ticket,” Harold declared.  “I don’t want one of those 281 dollar tickets.  I think a 66 dollar ticket is quite enough.”  Actually Harold thought that was too much but he figured it would be a rare treat.  When he collected his ticket, Harold turned around and said to the couple, “Well, it was nice to see you again.”

But when George got to the window, he had other ideas.  He said to the person selling tickets, “Can you get us two tickets right next to that last guy?”

“Sure,” she replied and sold him the next two seats.  Harold would be on the aisle and the couple from the north would be right next to him.

“Hey Harold, wait up,” George shouted and the couple hurried along to catch up with the master planner.  The problem is, George and Martha were not in the plan.  They all went into the park together and Harold and George had to stand around for fifteen minutes while Martha went to the women’s washroom.

When they got to their seats, the National Anthem was being played.  George decided to sit next to Harold for half the game in order to tell him everything that happened since Harold had retired.  Martha took the second half to update George on local gossip, most of it having to do with people Harold could not remember — or possibly never knew.

Harold’s seat on the aisle did not prove to be so ideal, since vendors and fans frequently went by, obstructing his view.  Beer vendors were particularly annoying because when they stopped in front of Harold, they were usually there for too long.

The game moved along slowly. The Cubs fell behind early due to errors and poor relief pitching.  It did not look major league.  At precisely three hours after the start of the game,  the alarm on Harold’s watch went off. He announced to the now somewhat tipsy couple, it was time to go.

“Go?” George shouted in horror.  “It is only the bottom of the eighth.  The Cubs could have a rally.  See, I have my rally cap.”  At that George took off his cap, turned it inside out, and put it back on his head.

“But I have somewhere to go … and the game has run long.”

Martha protested, “You’re retired.  Where do you have to go?  Sit down and watch the Cubs come back.”  The couple put up such a fuss that Harold sat back down just to put an end to the scene.  Rays fans around them were shouting at them to sit down.  It was embarrassing to the usually quiet Midwesterner.

The Cubs went three up, three down in the ninth, as might be expected from such a team.  The threesome filed out with all the others.  When Harold got to his hot car, the traffic was building. The trip through the lot and onto the roadway was slow and painful to Harold.  The Cubs had played as expected, but the day had not gone as Harold had planned it. Harold, master planner of retirement time, had been defeated again.

HAROLD AND THE TINY WIZARD

A Library Lesson, Part 2, Richard Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Imagine Harold, Master of Time Manipulation, Lord of the Library and Sultan of the Schedule, being knocked off course by a tiny Harry Potter wannabe, but there he was.  The assistant librarian left him standing in the middle of the Children’s Library with a pint-sized wizard in training, hoping to hear the exploits of a “real” boy wizard, Harry Potter.  Harold did not know how to handle the situation.

When Harold retired from his job as a mechanical engineer at a large Midwestern manufacturing facility, he foresaw days of peaceful plans with little interference from other humans.  People would be worked into the schedule as time allowed.  But his retirement proved difficult to control and plans were more like wishes than regular schedules.  Harold, however, was not easily dissuaded from keeping his schedule in tact.

“Can you read that story?” the little boy named after Harry Potter asked.

“Well, of course I can read it,” Harold answered.  “I am sure you can read it too.”  The little boy shook his head.  “A few of the words might be difficult, but the librarian or your parents can help you with those words.”  The boy shook his head again.

“I can’t read,” the boy said.  He looked at Harold with sad eyes that would have melted anyone without the strong constitution of the Midwest planner.

“I am sure a boy your size can read just fine,” Harold declared.  The little one shook his head some more.  “What is this word?” Harold said pointing to the word “Harry” on the cover of the book.

“Harry,” declared little Harry.

“And this word,” Harold said as he pointed toward “Potter.”

“Potter,” the tiny wizard said.

“See,” Harold said, “you can read. What about this big word?”  Harold pointed to “Sorcerer’s” and at that the little one started to cry.

“I don’t know,” Harry whimpered, leaving Harold with the most awkward feeling.

“Well it is nothing to cry about,” Harold tried to explain.  “The bigger words will come to you.” Harry shook his head.

“I know ‘Harry’ because it is my name and ‘Potter” too, but the others make no sense.  They are all mixed up.”

“Mixed up?” Harold asked.

“Yes, it is because I am stupid,” Harry said.  “I have that thing and my mother says I am stupid.”

“What thing?” Harold wanted to know.

“I don’t know,” little Harry cried.  “Dish something!”

Harold had to think about this.  He was convinced a boy that age should be able to read, and he could not imagine what his problem might be.  My analytical mind went to work until he finally said to the boy, “Dyslexia?”

“I don’t know,” the boy shouted.  After a moment he added more quietly, “maybe.”

“I see,” Harold said, but he didn’t really see at all.  Harold had no experience with children and especially one with a special need.  So the two boys stared at one another waiting for the next comment.

Finally, Harry said, “My mother drops me here all the time and tells me to read until I get it, but I don’t get it.”  A tear rolled down Harry’s round little face.  If anything could be said of this moment in Harold’s life, it might be that Harold never felt so uncomfortable.  So Harold sat in the big chair, and Harry sat in the little chair of the underused Children’s library in the Florida town, both waiting to move on to the story of a real boy wizard.

“Well, little one, haven’t you seen the movie?”  Harold asked.  Harry nodded.

“Then you don’t need the book,” Harold said.

“But I want to know what the book says,” Harry insisted.

Children's Library LogoHarold stared at the boy a long time.  The little one had an angelic face and big eyes and a curious nature.  He could not read but  he wanted to know what was in books, and particularly “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”  Actually, they both wanted to know what was in the book, but Harold could not imagine starting over.  He had already completed the opening chapters and reading out loud was so…SLOW!  After considerable thought Harold finally said, “OK, I will read to you until it is time to leave, but that’s all I can do.  I don’t think we will get very far.”

“OK,” the boy agreed and waited for the story to begin.

“Chapter One,” Harold started, “The Boy Who Lived.”  From there Harold read on until his watch sounded an alarm at 5 minutes to five.  At that he closed the book and announced “It is time for me to go.”

“Ok,” the boy said.  “Can we finish tomorrow?”

“No,” Harold said.  “I have plans tomorrow and the book is too long to finish anyway.”

“The next day?” Harry asked.

“No,” Harold insisted.  I will not be back before Tuesday.

“Ok,” Harry agreed.

This set Harold into a bit of a panic, “I mean, I am not sure about that. Maybe someone else can read to you.  I am not a good reader.  I am sure that the woman who reads books will be back soon and she can read it.”  The boy just stared, so Harry went on.  “I am never sure of my schedule and I don’t know about reading, besides I am not good at reading out loud.”

With nothing but a staring face looking up at him, Harold finally said, “We’ll see.”  At that, he got up, patted the boy on the top of the head and left the room.  When he got to the front desk, he put the book down as if to turn it in.

“Are you done with this book?” the librarian asked.

“Maybe,” a befuddled Harold replied.  “I don’t know.”  He left the book, walked down the few stairs to the entrance and out into the Florida sun.

IF MONEY WERE NO OBJECT

The WordPress guy asks me “if money were no object, would I work anyway?” 

Silly man. Money is definitely an object, but I don’t work. Anyway. Because I am, as is my husband, retired. I know this is a difficult concept to grasp, so allow me to explain it.

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When you get to a Certain Age, you are even more tired than you were during your earlier working years. You are more exhausted before you begin your work day as you formerly were after finishing it. You feel that way throughout the entire day until, at the close of business, you crawl to your car, drive home, wondering if you’ll make it. Gasping, wheezing, with accompanying soft moans, you crawl into your abode.

You look in the mirror.

“Self,” you say. “I can’t do this anymore.”

“I could retire,” you point out. “I could pack it in, take the money” and as you think this, a little bell ding-a-lings deep in your mental recesses … a bell labeled “What money?” Have you sat with HR to find out what kind of money there is in your retirement fund? Do you have a retirement fund? 401 K?

“And anyway,” you continue, “There is Social Security, right? I’ve worked hard my entire life. Surely there’s enough in there to sustain life?”

So begins the intricate dance by which you detach yourself from the working world — from whence all paychecks come. You slide into  a better place where long deferred pleasures await you. The satisfaction of a hobby well done. Free time that amounts to actual freedom. The joys of life without a programmed schedule.  (But alas, no paycheck.)

You get up when you like and go to bed when you choose.

Read all night till the sun come up and the cows are mooing to be milked. Watch old movies until sleep pulls you into darkness. You can blog, read, write your memoirs. Travel if money and your personal physical conditions allows. Most of us, after some initial confusion, settle down and discover that retirement is good. With its restrictions, issues, whatever … it’s very good. The best.

It is, barring ill-health (we wish we could bar ill-health!). Better than childhood because you don’t have to go to school and your parents aren’t telling you what to do. Better than your working years because you don’t have a boss telling you what to do. Better than the years of raising children because you are no long a slave to the whims of your delightful if spoiled darlings who you love more than life itself. Hopefully, l they have flown the coop and now nest elsewhere. With luck, they won’t fly back, bringing a birdie spouse and all the fledglings.

Would I work anyway? You’re kidding, right? I’d take the money because retirement and poverty, if not actually synonymous, ought to be.

But return to an office? Deadlines? Doing what I’m told or face the consequences? Schedules, on the job and off? Endless commutes? Taking ten minutes to get a sandwich, then wolfing it down while seated at the computer to the accompaniment of acid reflux?

No. I think not.

I’ve served my time, put in more than 40 years. Mr. WordPress prompt guy? Piss off.

A WILD WEST WEDNESDAY – RICH PASCHALL

Not just a Soup and Sandwich lunch for Harold, a rather well-organized man

It had already been an uncharacteristically hectic week for Harold, so he looked forward to a relaxing Wednesday. After he finished his morning breakfast, he took the newspaper to a nice spot by the window and sat down to read. He was only distracted momentarily by the library’s copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone sitting on the table. It seemed to beckon to him to continue the journey of the boy wizard. There was a time set aside for that sort of reading and he imagined he would resume the fanciful tale at the library where it began.

Soup and Sandwich

Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar

The time idled by in a leisurely sort of way that was befitting of a man in retirement. With the completion of each article, Harold looked out the window approvingly. The sun was shining, the air was at peace and so was Harold. He continued to read right up to the noon hour when it was time to get ready for the twice weekly sojourn to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar. Harold would dress in his best sports clothes since he knew his appearance was important. All of the help and many of the patrons were well aware of the 1 PM arrival every Wednesday and Saturday of the well-organized man from the Midwest.

Harold arrived at the door of the restaurant precisely at 1. He thought he was the picture of sartorial excellence when in truth he was rather plain, but certainly clean and well-groomed. As usual, the staff greeted him with kindness and even enthusiasm as he headed to the same general area where he always sat for lunch. His seat by the window was taken but he chose another that was just as bright and allowed for a good view of a television. ESPN was playing for Harold, minus sound.

“Hello,” said a voice that startled Harold. “My name is Amber and I will be your waitress today.” The young woman had an armful of tattoos and maroon colored hair. Her jeans were a bit ripped on the backside. She did not look a thing like the sweet Tiffany who usually waited on Harold. “May I start you off with a drink? We have Summer Surprise on tap. It is a seasonal beer we have on tap for just four dollars.” Amber worked her chewing gum quite hard as she waited for a response from the average looking old guy from another one of the nearby retirement areas.

“Tea,” Harold proclaimed. “I will have an ice tea with lemon on the side and 1 packet of sweetener.” With that Amber was off without taking Harold’s food order. Things were not exactly routine but a little out of the ordinary would be OK with Harold. Amber soon returned, took the order and things were nicely on track for a peaceful meal.

As Harold watched the television without the sound, a noise came bellowing across the room. “Harold!  Why you old son of a gun!” It was Bill, Harold’s neighbor from down the street. “What brings you here, besides the cheap lunch?” Harold did not consider the lunch cheap, but rather as economical. He also could not imagine what he did to invite Bill into his life twice in the same week. With that, Bill sat down opposite Harold.

“I just stopped in for lunch, that’s all,” Harold exclaimed. “I like the food here and the people are nice.” Bill nodded in agreement and then a brilliant idea popped into Bill’s head.

“You know, Harold, we could ride over here together on Wednesdays. You can enjoy your,” Bill paused as Amber set down Bill’s lunch, “whatever, and I can try out their other items. It will be great.” With that, Bill got up, slapped Harold on the back and said, “See ya buddy, I gotta go. I’ll call you Monday to see if you are up for our little shopping tour.”

Bill was off as quickly as he arrived. He made comments to each of the waitresses as he headed toward the door and soon the place was just a bit quieter. Harold shook his head slowly as peace returned to the table in what was his favorite spot in the room. Having Bill enter his routine once in the week was quite a lot, but twice might be more than poor, old Harold could handle. He felt he just had to limit his time with Bill. “Perhaps,” he thought, “I should switch my Wednesday lunch hour.” It was not going to make a difference.

When lunch was finished, Amber wandered over and gave a disinterested smile and left the check. She did not write her name on the back or add a smiley face as Tiffany would have done. Harold paid with his favorite bank credit card that gave cash back rewards, including 2x points for restaurants in the current month, and smiled at Amber as she brought the receipt. Harold was to hope there would be no more unscheduled adventure for the rest of the week. He had no idea what the following days would add to his otherwise perfectly planned schedule.

NOW? LATER? ALL THE SAME TO ME

Now? Later! — We all procrastinate. Website, magazine, knitting project, TV show, something else — what’s your favorite procrastination destination?


Holy moly! You made me pause to think this morning. I’m not sure I can handle that. Procrastination destination? You mean … like … what do I do when I’m not doing what I’m ‘posed to do?

What am I supposed to do? What is that?

I have no schedule. I have no professional goals, no boss, no deadlines. Other than an annual vacation, the occasional party, or doctor’s appointment …. everything is optional. I can do it. Or not.

Kitchen summer morning 2

Do it now, later, or skip it entirely. It’s up to me. Procrastination loses its zing post-retirement. I suppose I could set myself deadlines and then stress about meeting them, but why? Haven’t I had enough stress in my life? Now, later, never. It’s all the same.

You young ones are welcome to your hyped up lives, frantic schedules, important agendas, and artificial deadlines. I wish you well. I remember living a life where running as fast as I could meant staying in the same place — with exhaustion (mental and physical) as my constant companion.

I served my time and then some. Looking back, so much of it was a waste of energy. It meant nothing in the long run. Most of it meant nothing in the short run, too. Artificial deadlines for insignificant projects which frequently came to nothing for anyone … and I was just an itsy bitsy cog in someone else’s wheel of fortune.

I don’t have to do that anymore. I knew there was an up side to oldness. Time for another cuppa. I love coffee in the morning. Don’t you?