Monday, October 19, 2009

Early Retirement

By Elliott Joseph

Copyright 2009 Elliott Joseph

November 2009

My friend Dave is the youngest in our crowd, but he was first to get a job, first to get married, first to have kids, and six months ago the first to retire.

"Early retirement, heh?" I said when he told me the news. "I knew you were making a bundle, you rascal." Now starts a life of debauchery, mindless travel and excess, I envisioned, leading to boredom, anxiety, desperation and premature demise.

Dave insisted he wasn't loaded.

"They've forced you out. Discrimination!" I yelped.

It wasn't anything like that, he said. It was his own decision to retire.

The poor guy, I thought. He must be terminal.

"You can tell me, Dave," I said, putting my arm around his shoulder. "How much time have you got?"

He guessed about thirty-five to forty years. His father had lived to be ninety-two and his mother was in good shape.

"You're going into business! You've invented a substitute for soap!"

He smiled.

"Hated your boss's guts, didn't you?"

No, he said. He had worked very hard all his life. He had seen to his children's education, and at last they were on their way, each in his or her own style. Now he just wanted to do whatever he felt like doing.

I had to save him. He was my friend.

"OK," I said, "go through your drawers and get rid of every pair of socks you haven't worn in two years. Then, after you enjoyed your little respite, take a serious look at your future."

What else can you say when your pal, barely into his fifties, says he's wrapping it up?

The first thing he did was to take a six weeks trip to Spain with Betty to study Spanish. I saw him briefly when they got back, but then they took off for Cleveland to see family and old friends. We talked now and then but not that much. Finally, last weekend, I was able to stop in to see how he was doing I prepared myself for the worst. How much free time would a person who's worked all his life be able to take?

As I entered his house an exquisitely delicious aroma filled my nostrils.

"Betty baking?" I asked.

No she was out. That's a snack loaf he has been experimenting with and it's just about ready.

I regarded him suspiciously until I noticed how well he looked. The crease on the left side of his face was gone. The rims of his eyes were a healthy pink instead of the raw red I had gotten used to seeing over the years. He seemed trimmer and sort of bounced on his tennis shoes as he moved about the room.

"So what have you decided to do?" I asked.

Well, he thought he'd continue with the Spanish. Such a beautiful language.

"O.K., O.K., but what are you going to DO?"

Did I mean tomorrow? He didn't know. Maybe take a walk in the woods. Did I want to play some golf or go to the game with him?

"What are your plans, David?"

He'd been doing some volunteering. He liked that.

"Good, good, but what are your PLANS?" I repeated.

Then he told me about the four men he had seen at a cafe on the island of Kos ten years before. Nearby was the great plane tree, a descendant of the one under which, it was said, Hippocrates had taught medicine to the youth of ancient Greece. The men were sitting on simple wooden chairs at a simple wooden table. He thinks there was a famous painting of a scene like that. Each had a glass in front of him, though it was ignored for the most part. They talked, sometimes earnestly and sometimes perfunctorily, and they laughed and they looked at the people passing by. The next day they were there again.

Dave said he had thought about taking a picture of them, but decided that if he did it would probably wind up in an envelope someplace and he'd forget all about it.

"Are you saying you want to sit around and just do -- nothing?"

"Is that nothing?"

"It's a waste. You'd atrophy. After a while you wouldn't know what time it was."

I looked at my watch. "It's a quarter to two," I said.

He knew.

"It's Saturday."

He knew.

We shook hands.

"If you ever need me," I said, "if ever you need a job. If ever you start chewing off your fingernails, I want you to call me."

He assured me he would.

Well, I thought, it's only a few months. Let's see how he's getting along a year or so from now.

Imagine. Retiring early and doing whatever you want to do. That can't be good for you, can it?

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