This used to be a big deal because we got so much money back at the end of the year. Then Reagan changed everything and we got back less than half we’d gotten in the past. Now, on a fixed income, we get pretty much the same thing every year.
This year we got a little more Federal, a little less State, but the result was essentially the same as last year.
Not a big deal, but it beats out nothing. It’s the only “lump” of money we get all year and I’m hoping it’ll be enough to get the chimney fixed.
I’m still a little punchy with the upcoming fix up to the bathroom and trying to snip whatever payments I can downward so that maybe we can get through this alive. Getting out of AT&T and into US Mobile brought $40/month back into our account. I’ve got a few almost finished accounts and when they are done, we’ll have another $100 maybe?
It’s the fixed income thing.
Prices go up, but income never goes up. We haven’t had crazy inflation, yet the price of food has been slowly rising. Heating oil has risen. Trash went down a little, but taxes went up too. And somehow, our “low-end” cable package keep crawling upward. A dollar here, two dollars there, another five in that corner.
We dumped cable and got “YouTubeTV” and haven’t looked back. Of course, we still have to keep paying Charter for Wi-Fi and somehow, the price of Wi-Fi is now more than our original cable bill was. Funny how that works.
We don’t get “big hits” of income change, either positive or negative — but over time, since we’ve been on a fixed income, it has eroded by 15%, give or take maybe another 5%. That’s with low inflation, mind you. If inflation rises faster, we will be in trouble.
There is nothing to be done about it … other than winning Mega Millions of course. I suppose we should buy a ticket. Just in case.
Don’t we all wish to be loved and accepted for who we are in our entirety? Yet we hide the good, even from ourselves, behind a socially acceptable modesty while brandishing our flaws and frailties as if they alone define who we are. They do not. We define who we are. As much by how we choose to see ourselves as by anything else. If we see ourselves whole, perhaps others may too. They cannot until we do, as we project outward only a fragment of who we are. The saying ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ comes to mind. Maybe if we love our whole selves we can love others wholly too.
We are told that the very physical fabric of everything we know, including our own bodies, is made of the matter from which the stars were formed. Our physical forms exist because somewhere, aeons ago, a star died. If that is so, why should we not simply shine?
I realize the answer is really simple. We don’t shine because we need to work. We have to have a resume. We need to be “people-people.” No one wants to hire someone who shines. They want to hire people who fit in, people who won’t jolt the company “culture.”
I never figured out what company culture was, actually. Most of the places who exalted their company culture have long since gone bankrupt. Usually what company culture really meant is “we don’t want to work any harder than we absolutely have to.” These are places where mentioning deadlines were enough to get you out the door.
They hired many more people than they needed to do the work because the people they hired couldn’t really do the work. More to the point, they didn’t do the work. They intentionally worked so slowly I found it hard to believe anyone could write that slowly. They thought THREE PAGES A DAY of technical material was plenty. I used to write between 20 and 50 and on a really good day, I could write half the book. Sure I’d have to go back and edit, add graphics, double check information, and test the document against the product.
But I got the work done. I got the basic draft put together quickly which left me time for serious rewrites and corrections once I’d Beta-tested the product.
I worked at Intel for a year. It was a good job. Good pay. Also, not far from home and I didn’t have to drive into Boston. I had to work a 10 hour day every day, but I only had about 45 minutes of work to do. I was so bored I thought it would kill me. Ten hours of sitting in front of a computer — with NOTHING to do.
Shine? I could barely keep my eyes open.
And then, I got sick, stopped working, and got old. I don’t have a resume anymore. I’m not working for anyone who pays me, so I don’t have to lie to anyone, fake anything, pretend anything I don’t feel. With all the physical problems I have, I can’t begin to tell you how deeply I enjoy being me all the time. I’m not sure how the rest of the world feels about it, but I’m happy.
Shining is best done by the rich and the retired. Shining is not an option for most of us who have to show up to work and smile.
He had been in the business for almost 40 years. The last twenty-seven of those with the same company. He liked his job and thought he was good at it. In just a few more years he would retire. Everything seemed to be on track.
When Carl started in his career, orders were processed with typewriters. Carbon paper was used when multiple copies were required. Details of international orders were sent overseas by telex machine. Everything was done manually and file cabinets were stuffed with files of all the orders and shipments.
Carl made it through all the changes. At first, he thought an electronic typewriter with memory was just about the coolest thing. Fax machines took the place of telex machines and worldwide communication was getting easier. As the decades went on, technology and communications advanced faster and faster, but Carl kept right up with everything. You could never say that Carl was behind the times.
Despite the efficiency of his work life, the same could not be said of Carl’s personal life until recent years. Only as retirement thoughts started weighing on his mind did Carl pay attention to his accounts. For the last few years, he contributed to the 401K plan. He even took out some small CDs for better interest return, since savings and checking accounts returned him only pennies per month, literally.
Then came the problems of advancing age. Bifocals were no longer good enough to do his job. He was recommended to get trifocals but opted for a second pair of glasses — just to see the computer. His hands were stiff and sore and he needed medication for that.
Nerve pain in the feet demanded a drug as did high cholesterol. His blood tests never satisfied his doctor and even when he felt well, there were many pills to take. With all these issues, Carl still carried on in grand fashion and handled his job like a pro.
When Carl got a new boss, they seemed to get along well. She appeared to appreciate his experience and they often had nice little chats. When Carl asked if he could come in late so he could have his annual physical, his boss seemed disappointed. He assured her he would make up the time during the week and she finally voiced approval.
The doctor’s visit showed the usual issues, but also “abnormal cells in undetermined significance.” Carl was referred to a specialist and he had to ask for another morning off. The boss looked quite perturbed when she said: “OK if you must.” Unfortunately for Carl, he did, in fact, feel he must see the doctor.
The specialist was a handsome young man with a sunny disposition. He indicated all the dire situations that may be happening with such a cute smile, Carl still felt at ease. His examination and subsequent biopsy lead to “dysplasia but cells are undetermined.” Carl was recommended to a surgeon.
Again, Carl asked for a morning off. The stares of the boss led Carl to say he would make up his time the same week and he would not ask for any more time off in the coming months. He was greeted with a long and painful silence. “Fine,” the boss stated with an air of exasperation.
The following day was a Wednesday and Carl worked hard all day under the glares of his much younger boss. Whenever Carl looked around, she seemed to be nearby staring at him. Needless to say, it was a rather uncomfortable day. Normally, Carl had pleasant days and nice little chats with coworkers. He never got close to any of them or saw them socially. One young man loved having random little conversations with Carl about anything every day, but he was the only friend if you could call him that. Carl was just at work to do his job.
At the end of that day, just past 5 pm, the facilities manager, the superior to Carl’s boss, invited Carl down to her office for a chat. When he got there his boss was already seated and staring at the floor. The facilities manager began.
“Carl, you know we think you have been doing excellent work for us for many years but…” Then there was a long pause while the manager looked for the words. “Well, business has fallen off some. The stronger dollar means weaker business. We are well behind budget for the year and we must eliminate a position. I am sorry, but we have to let you go.”
Carl was dumbfounded. He planned to work another two or three years and retire. He was not ready for this. His boss continued to look at the floor when the manager spoke up again. She explained about the last paycheck, vacation pay, Cobra insurance, unemployment. She said she would write a nice letter of recommendation. She closed by saying she was sorry, it was not personal, it was just economics. She thanked him for his years of service. His boss continued to stare at the floor.
He returned to his desk, took a few personal items while his bossed hovered nearby and he was then prepared to leave. That’s when she came over and asked for his badge and ID and walked away. “What was that?” a longtime female coworker asked. “I was fired,” he replied. The coworker started to cry. Carl quietly said goodbye, looked around for his young friend, who was already gone, and he left.
After a few days of reviewing jobs online and making a few calls, Carl saw it would be difficult at his age and salary range to find a new position. That night, he lined up all of his prescriptions on the kitchen table, including the container of powerful painkillers for his hand pain. Next, he got a bottle of one of his favorite wines, appropriately chilled. He opened the wine, poured himself a glass and sat down at the kitchen table. There he looked over the table and contemplated his future.
You don’t work as a child, but they make you go to school — which can be as bad and sometimes, worse than work. Moreover, childhood is prepping for the work of your future and as such, is a worrying environment.
Other people set your schedule and tell you what to eat, drink, and wear.
Now, in retirement? No school, unless you feel like it. No one sets your schedule or tells you what to wear. You can hang around in your PJs or underwear. And some of us do exactly that.
In your working years, you grow increasingly tired until one day, you look in a mirror.
“Self,” you say. “I can’t do this anymore.”
“I could retire,” you point out to yourself. “I could pack it in, take the money.” As you think this, a little bell goes ding-a-ling deep in your brain, It’s a bell labeled “What money?” Have you sat with HR to find out what kind of money you have in your retirement fund?
Do you have a retirement fund? How about a 401 K?
“And anyway,” you continue, “There is Social Security, right? I’ve worked hard my entire life. Surely there’s enough there to sustain life?”
So begins the intricate dance by which you detach yourself from the working world and figure out from where all future paychecks will come. It isn’t easy, but you work something out because there always comes a point when you really don’t have a choice. You are finished with work … and work is finished with you, too.
You slide into a place where many long-deferred pleasures await you. Hobbies are now your primary activity. You have free time that is truly free. Pity about the lack of a paycheck, but most of us feel that the freedom of retirement is a pretty good trade-off, though there are good days and not-so-good ones.
You get up when you like. Go to bed when you want. You sleep late as often as possible. You can read until the sun come up and watch old movies until sleep pulls you into darkness.
You can blog, read, and write your memoirs. Travel, if money and your physical condition allow. Most of us, after some initial confusion, settle down and discover retirement is good. Even considering all the restrictions, physical issues, and losses … it’s very good. For many of us, this is the first real freedom we’ve ever known.
Barring ill-health — and don’t we all wish we could bar ill-health — is far better than working no matter what your income. Finally, you don’t have a boss telling you what to do. You are no longer a slave to the whims of your spoiled darlings who hopefully, have flown the coop and nest elsewhere, but remember to call and visit. With luck, they won’t fly back, bringing a birdie spouse and the fledglings.
Would I work anyway if I had the option?
Return to an office?
Doing what I’m told or face the consequences?
Schedules every day of every week for year after year, 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?
Bill was to report to County Hospital at 10 AM so he had to hustle through his morning routine, if you could call it that. He slept until the sun woke him up, so he barely had an hour to wash his face, shave, get dressed, make coffee and leave the house. In his usual haphazard fashion, Bill accomplished his tasks on time.
From the kitchen window he spied clouds that might roll in from the west, but nothing could erase the shine from this day. A goal had been met and Bill would have the honor of walking the winner across the finish line. But despite his bright attitude, Bill grabbed for the large golf umbrella on the way out the door. No, Bill did not play golf. He just never knew when there might be a need for such a large umbrella.
Everyone seemed to know Bill when he arrived at the hospital. He had been making regular visits there for months, and chatting up the nurses and interns along the way. Now he only had time to smile and wave as he made his way to the fifth floor.
In room 502 a nurse was assisting the patient in getting ready to leave the rehabilitation floor to head home. Slowly he dressed, needing some help from others as he went. When he was all set, the nurse helped him to stand, and after a minute on his feet, to sit in the wheelchair. His personal items were stuffed into two plastic bags marked “Patient Belongings” and a small plastic tub, which was used a few times for washing up, was filled with a small half used tube of toothpaste, a cheap toothbrush, a small unopened shampoo bottle, a half bottle of mouthwash and some hand lotion.
The patient, a retired Industrial Planner from the Midwest, had arrived rather unceremoniously three months earlier. Paramedics brought him in after collecting him from the floor of his screened in patio. A neighbor had spotted him and another neighbor arrived with his first name. A medical investigator actually discovered his last name by visiting the home where he was found and looking on the mailbox.
Now the entire staff on the fifth floor of County Hospital knew Harold. Although he said very little due to his condition, nurses and therapists liked to stop in to have a little chat. For the first month, Harold could say nothing in return. As time progressed, he began to react more to the comments with a nod, a smile, or even a word or two.
He had spent the first week at County down stairs in ICU. For the second week he did little but lay in bed in 502. Sometimes someone would turn on the television, but it was doubtful Harold was aware of it most of the time. After that, the plan was put in motion. It was not the plan of the supreme Planner, but one on which the rest of his life depended.
It took many helpers to carry out the plan for Harold. A physical therapist was brought in to get Harold back into motion. He worked his arms and legs and soon began to prompt the patient on which action to make. When he was quite ready, the therapist would take him to the activity room where Harold would sit and roll a large ball across the room to the therapist who would roll it back. After that there was standing and walking. By the third month, Harold moved to the stairs. It was a narrow set of three with railings on both sides to grab. He went up to the top, then down the other side.
As movement improved, Harold was taken to a room set up like a kitchen. There he would practice opening jars and bottles and sometimes even cans. It was a struggle. In the third month he would prepare his own lunch. It was soft foods which he sometimes could not eat.
From week three a therapist came to teach swallowing. Weeks of exercises lead to attempt at swallowing thick liquids. Water and coffee were no good unless thickener was added. Harold looked at the therapist with a bit of disdain every time she poured thickener into a good cup of coffee. In truth, he could barely swallow the liquids when his time at County was up.
Another therapist worked on speech. Harold found it strange that someone must teach him how to shape his mouth and exercise his throat for sounds in order to say words again. It was not perfect after three months, but at least he could speak and be understood.
Bill arrived in 502 with all of the enthusiasm of a relative welcoming someone back from the dead. His smile was even larger than the patient’s, who still was working on his facial muscles and reactions.
“Ready to break out of here?” Bill said with a laugh.
Harold nodded slowly. He actually was not sure he was ready, but he was certainly glad to be going home.
“OK then, I guess we will just roll you out of here, since they will not allow you to race through the halls,” Bill blurted out, amused with himself.
A member of the hospital staff rolled the patient to the front door and Bill pulled his car right up to the front. They both had to help Harold get into the car, as his range of motion was limited.
The hospital worker handed into Harold a cane, the kind with four feet on the bottom. “I guess you will be needing this for a while.” With that, the two retirees drove away.
Leaving the hospital was not the end of the journey for Harold. It only took him part way down the long road.
Bill woke up refreshed on another warm and pleasant Florida morning. As he lie awake staring at the window shades, he wondered what time it could possibly be. In retirement, Bill did not worry about such things as alarm clocks. Yes, he had one just in case he needed it, but he tried never to set it. This Monday, however, Bill did have something he wished to do. So he decided to get up and start his week.
Not far away, at the county hospital, Harold was barely conscious. He had been transferred from Intensive Care to a regular hospital room. It was a trip from one bland room to another, although the current room did not contain so many machines humming and whirring, not that any of the noise was noticed by the recovering retiree.
The previous Monday Harold was brought to the emergency room. He had a stroke on Monday, or perhaps even the day before, no one knows for sure. Harold was not talking and they could only make a guess. The paramedics told a neighbor it did not seem to be a long time, but they were not sure.
Bill, and nosey Mabel Crockett, were the only neighbors who knew where Harold had gone. Neither knew of any of Harold’s friends or relatives, so Harold had to lie for a week in Intensive Care while Bill tried in vain to get news. Now he could finally go and see his retirement friend.
In truth, Harold was not in much better shape, but since he had moved to a regular room, he was allowed visitors. As no one had been notified, there was no one to visit Harold until now. Even though Harold had been a master planner in his profession, he had never planned for a life event of this magnitude. As a result, his future was in the hands of strangers to whom he could not communicate.
When Bill had finished his morning routine, including a light breakfast, he prepared for a trip to the hospital to see Harold. All through the previous week, Bill had tried to see Harold and was turned away on every occasion. He was not a relative and since there was no medical power of attorney or permissions granted, no one besides the medical staff could see old Harold.
At the moment Bill was ready to give up on Harold the previous week, a hospital volunteer slipped him the word the Harold had improved and would earn his way to a regular room. Now Bill was ready to go find out if Harold could tell him anything about friends or relatives. Just who should be notified.
Bill drove through the light traffic to the county hospital and parked in the multi-level parking garage. It seemed that all of the spaces on the first two levels were reserved for staff or the handicapped so Bill drove up and parked near the elevator. He rode down, walked across the roadway that lead to the Emergency Room, and entered the hospital.
The same receptionist who Bill saw everyday the previous week was on duty, but this time she was able to give him some information and a room pass.
“Good morning,” she said upon seeing Bill. “You will want to go to the fifth floor and when you get off the elevator, go right and down to room 502.” At that she handed Bill a room pass and instructed him to return it when he came down.
“Hello,” Bill said with a smile when he was finally able to jump in. “Thanks,” he continued as he took the pass and headed to the room. Oddly enough, no one ever asked to see the pass that Bill stuck in his pocket.
When Bill arrived at the room he discovered a whole group of medical people around Harold’s bed. They seemed to be discussing their plan of recovery for Harold. They all spoke as if Harold was not even in the room.
“He’s already been here a week and there is only slight improvement in motor skills,” one doctor announced to the gathering.
“We believe his cognitive skills will return to full capacity,” another doctor chimed in, “but only time will tell for sure.”
A nurse stated that Harold was being fed by a tube in the stomach because he was incapable of eating. The brown liquid in the bag hanging overhead would have to do for a while.
As the discussion of Harold’s condition, both good and bad, continued, Bill asked the nurse if he could see her in the hall. “Can Harold hear what all of you are saying?”
The nurse explained that Harold might be able to hear but perhaps he could not follow along too well because of the medication. “Then don’t you think we should be careful what we say about his recovery?” Bill wanted to know, trying to make a point she did not understand.
“Yes,” the nurse replied in a cheery voice, “please be careful what you say.” A frustrated Bill walked back into the room where the discussion of Harold’s condition continued.
A physical therapist discussed rehabilitation plans. This was followed by a speech therapist. She not only spoke of the relearning to talk, she also discussed the work that would be necessary to teach swallowing. This act that we all take for granted would have to be relearned following the paralyzing effect on one side of the body.
An occupational therapist was the next to speak. There would be a need to practice typical household chores, such as reaching for cans and bottles and opening them, preparing food, and doing everyday tasks.
All of the therapists and doctors announced a schedule they would follow each week. They discussed a timetable for success and how much they had hoped to accomplish in an optimal situation. As they left the room, Bill tried frantically to ask how long this would take and if Harold would fully recover.
As that was taking place, a slight smile appeared on Harold’s face. The Midwest planner was pleased at the extensive day-to-day plan they had laid out for him.
Bill woke with the Florida sun proclaiming the new day, as he did on most days. He did not set an alarm clock, it was against his retirement protocol. Instead, he waited for the room to brighten with the energy of a new morning.
As he wandered through his house, getting ready to meet the world, Bill thought of what he would do that Friday. It seems he had been on a futile mission all week. Nevertheless, he would try again, and give it just one more chance. It felt like the least he could do for his friend.
Bill’s morning routine could not exactly be described as a routine. Rather it was haphazard at best. He went to the washroom. He went to the closet. He went to the kitchen to start coffee. He went back to the washroom to shave. He looked again in the closet for what to wear and he went back to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. It took him over an hour to get ready to start the day, but that was Bill’s retirement plan. In other words, there was no plan.
His neighbor Harold, on the other hand, always had a plan. His time seemed to be allocated to the minute. While Bill liked Harold, he was not fond of the rigid lifestyle. That was no way to retire, Bill thought. Of course, it all did not matter now.
At the beginning of the week, Harold was found lying on his screened in patio and carted off to the local hospital, just a short distance away. It was not unusual for the Emergency Medical Technicians to pick up old timers in this part of Sarasota County, but it was still a shock to the few who knew Harold. Bill was one of those few.
Although a daily purpose was never part of Bill’s retirement goals, he nonetheless scheduled himself into a visit to the county hospital every day in a vain attempt to learn something, anything, about Harold’s condition. He was not immediate family and he was not named on any medical documents, since Harold, Planner Supreme, had no plan for this life-altering event. So Bill had learned nothing all week-long. Still, he could not settle his mind over the thought of Harold just falling over on his patio. So he kept trying to get a medical update.
When coffee was gone and toast was eaten, Bill was ready to make the trip to the county hospital. He stepped out into the Florida sun to find the day was already hot and humid. Neighbor Mabel Crockett, would tell anyone who would listen that “the air was so think you could cut it with a knife.” And so it was exactly that.
Bill hopped into his car in the driveway of his townhouse and hoped that the air conditioner would be at work right away. He was a bit disappointed at that, but he did not have far to go.
He arrived at the parking lot that was just two dollars for patients and visitors for four hours. “Don’t forget to have your ticket validated,” the guard warned Bill. If he forgot, the charge was double. Bill did not seem to care too much about that.
He entered by the Emergency Room and walked past the Trauma Triage and down the hall to the main lobby area. There he walked right up to the same receptionist who greeted him every day that week.
“Yes?” the elderly receptionist said with a sigh. She recalled Bill immediately and was prepared to go through the routine again.
“I am here to see my friend Harold. He came in through Emergency on Monday.”
“I know,” she said with a tired sound. It is the same sound that came with all of the disappointing statements she must give to visitors. “I’m sorry,” she continued. “Your friend is in intensive care. I can not give out information to anyone but immediate family.”
Bill started with his usual response, “But I might be…”
“I know, sir, and I am very sorry. It is the regulation and there is nothing else I can say,” the grey haired woman proclaimed with a heavy dose of sadness.
They stared at each other for a moment when Bill finally conceded. “I understand,” he said with a bit of a choked up sound. He could understand the rule, just not the dogmatic enforcement in this circumstance.
Bill started back down the hall toward the exit by the Emergency room. He passed pictures of important donors, including the Ringling Family of Circus fame. There were also paintings of peaceful ocean scenes that would seem to go with the best rooms at a Holiday Inn. Bill noticed none of it all week-long. He just knew how long the walk would take to the exit.
As he got half way down the hall, Bill felt a tap on his shoulder. “Excuse me,” a voice announced. “Excuse me, sir.”
Bill turned around to find the elderly receptionist right behind him. She seemed a bit out of breath, probably from her pursuit of Bill.
“I am not supposed to say anything,” she said softly, as if she was telling a big secret, “but what are they going to do? Fire me? I am a volunteer.” At that, Bill saw her first smile of the week.
“Your friend is doing better,” she stated, “And they should move him out of Intensive Care soon, maybe tomorrow.”
Bill grabbed the old woman and gave her a big hug. Tears formed in his eyes as he told the receptionist, “Thank you so much!” This was followed by another big hug.
So Bill thanked some woman he didn’t know for some news about a neighbor he hardly knew. The news itself really wasn’t anything at all, but it made Bill’s day complete.
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