I dislike the question “how do you like retirement?” I mean, this is like asking “how do you like breathing?” Life is a one-way street and there are no U-turns on the way toward the great unknown. So, yes I like retirement fine just as I prefer breathing oxygen-rich air in my garden to inhaling diesel fumes in downtown L.A. There are moments when it is really grand, like after that pre-prandial whiskey and there is a good ball game on TV, or when you realize there are no such things as “school nights” anymore and the snooze button on your clock radio seems six inches wide. You never have to leave a social gathering early but maybe you will just because you are old and tired. Imagine driving on a freeway when there is no traffic and shopping where you can easily park in the Trader Joe’s lot. Such is the joy of retirement. I would say every day is Saturday except I used to work every other Saturday at the library.
A side effect of filing retirement plan papers is your concurrent enrollment in Medicare which allows the dam of youth to crack wide open and the gush of “grim reaper mail” to flow into your mailbox. The establishment of your Medicare card is like blood in the water for junk mail/spam sharks. First, health plan deals, then less optimistic Neptune society burials at sea, Forest Lawn plots, medical devices (what is a truss anyway) and more junk mail for the sick and old than automobile warranty calls on your answering machine. That is another sign of age when you even have an answering machine. Of course, I can always repair to my balcony off my bedroom and enjoy the view at sunset. Then again, my balcony looks out on Forest Lawn Glendale with its verdant, rolling hill reminders of mortality.
Simone de Beauvoir wrote “Retirement may be looked upon either as a prolonged holiday or as a rejection, a being thrown onto the scrap-heap” and Simone was right. It’s a nice scrap heap with cable, Wi-Fi, and plenty of Farmer’s Market organic food but no one tells you how great you are like they do at Central Library after you answer a reference question. All those delightfully private jokes you had with the members of your work family go unheard and it is awkward to call the reference desk to do an imitation of an eccentric patron from the 90’s when the mood strikes. There are no donuts on Saturday mornings and I have not tasted pizza in six months. Pizza is the staple of library parties! Pizza is a celebration of life. You never had to invent funny stories at Central library since they came to you and they came often. I mean where else would a customer iron his underwear or cook a grilled cheese sandwich in an area set up to allow study of the world’s civilizations. I miss my co-workers who always let me know if I missed a good one. No one calls me names in retirement. I am not the “Lizard People guy” or “map guru” or “amiable” or “scruffy-bearded” or “the tall guy in History” or even “arrogant” but I am still those things I think. Even as an author or character in a video my fifteen minutes are down to seconds and the little fame left may be unwelcome. Just recently I noticed a new review of my out-of-print book affixing a one-star rating and the description of the work that involved one year of my life as “a stinker.” The guy was critical enough to say he had read only the table of contents.
I have become more distant than I anticipated and library gossip withdrawal is tough, very tough. The closest thing to a character in my hermit’s lodge is Amelia, one of my cats who brings me plastic bags crying like she is saving her kittens from the hawks we can see circling out the windows. I spoke reassuringly to her and her sister…a lot. I also speak to lizards, squirrels, hummingbirds, scrub jays, mourning doves, and a skunk that roots in my container plants. Only the cats make it a dialogue. Not long ago I swear I heard a Spotted Towhee singing the introduction to Richard Strauss’ “le bourgeois gentilhomme” as I sat in my garden with a cup of coffee. Things may not always be what they seem. If you remember COVID sequester time then you have a start on understanding retirement. At first, you fill up your days and eventually you try to slow down the sundial to no avail. You can’t take the librarian out of the retiree. My pantry is in Dewey decimal order, my basement was weeded with the help of some rats and I have removed hundreds of pencils from the shirts I once wore to work. You do have time for things, all those things you wanted to do but put off until your golden years. My local thrift store has the 56 volume Great Books series ready and waiting. I actually have a lot of the great books from when I was young and full of dreams. I even have Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book and Henry Miller’s The Books in My Life, so Dostoyevsky here I come…right? Well, I discovered Tik Tok and Jack Reacher novels so maybe I will get to the great stuff later this year, maybe after baseball season since I get all Dodger games on my cable that costs as much as a month as a voyage to a foreign land. I AM an appreciative and admiring patron however and use my library card quite a bit. I read the excellent blogs, thrill at the achievements of library-enriched patrons, and am a huge fan of Freegal which I stream all day long. The playlists are educational and often inspiring, even Philip Levie’s death metal list.
A respected co-worker who pulled the ripcord before I did, told me there would be a period of PTSD after leaving the profession and she was absolutely right. My dreams almost always contain a worry about getting back to my desk and reporting to my first Senior, the stern but smart as hell Frank Louck. Central Library appears as a huge and impossibly confusing maze where no one seems to know me and my computer and phone won’t work. Sometimes they turn into liquid like a Salvador Dali painting. Other times I have forgotten to wear pants. I still expect to get an email requesting my quarterly report which would not be terribly eventful:
- Went to one concert
- Went to movie (only person in theater)
- Went to Dodger game that cost more than my rent in 1979
- Had a catio built
- Went to Butterfly Pavilion at Natural History Museum
- Had Writer’s Block
- Finished Better Call Saul binge
The TIPS list is the sheet that gives librarians suggested titles to replenish or keep their collections current. It is one of the last ways that we connected to our readers and sometimes was a challenge since we no longer saw the physical books. At home, my only TIPS list is comprised of flavors and brands of cat food. Should we buy Weruva’s Paw Lickin Chicken or Wellness Chicken and Lobster pate or Tiki Cat Wild Salmon, Fussy Cat Premium Tuna, or the McDonald’s of wet food: Fancy Feast seafood? These choices are not judged by circulation figures but by a simple paw that shows disapproval by scratching next to unwanted dishes.
There are no problems with the schedule since there are none and meetings are pretty much limited to my family’s bi-monthly Zoom still filled with mysterious snafus mostly coming from the geriatric big four “original kids.”I Said You Are Muted! In retirement, there is no webmaster and no one cleans your restroom. Well, someone cleans your restroom and it is you. Training is unnecessary since you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and this dog is the one that gets the comments during a walk in the neighborhood “oh good to see he can still make it up the hill.” Yes, you can still see me slowly perambulating around the Silver Lake Reservoir every morning around 7:30 with pockets filled with doggie treats.
A key to making retirement more positive is to avoid watching daytime television. Of course, news channels are always soul-crushing but the commercials on regular television are nothing more than a road map toward decrepitude as the clock winds down. “Seniors,” are always portrayed by 56-year-old fitness instructors smiling at an investment counselor or rushing toward the nearest restroom or driving a convertible out to some desert casino like they are actually going to win. Half the broadcast time you are getting listings of side effects of new medications and the other half being offered cemetery plots, hair restoration, or codger communities where golf and bridge are all you need worry your pretty gray head about. I really don’t want to be young again but being a boomer means you are the schmoo on social media. If you don’t know what a schmoo is then you are not my age. Suffice it to say, we wrecked the world and are not sorry about it. Yes, there are the unavoidable moments when the memories become an ache and you miss all of those dear ones you left behind. When you spend over half your life amidst the smell of musty books, smoky stacks, and smart people you cannot just quit cold turkey.
Finally, I don’t in any way disparage retirement since it is nature’s way of thinning the civil service herd and letting vigorous young minds have their turn at the grindstone. To old library pals Anne and Robin, dive in the water is fine! Millions of retirees are enjoying their best lives while talking in the movies I used to go to and spending their much-deserved pensions on grandkids. I tip my hat to those enjoying their spouses. They deserve medals for keeping the flame burning. That is true success in my book. I envy those people who love to travel and fill Facebook with photos of really cool-looking places and cocktails on verandas in exotic resorts. I like being there I just dislike going there. I loathe airports, sitting in airplanes, driving in traffic, being a stranger in a strange land, and have always had a deep contentment at home like Thoreau had of Walden Pond. Every night I have a glorious sunset shining over the former Rancho Los Feliz and my friends and family remember me not as a map guy but as the old man who still laughs at how lucky we are to have made it this far and in this fascinating place. I still love LAPL and am so proud to have been a cog in the wheel of Central Library but as Emerson said “tis time to be old, to take in the sail.”