Thursday, October 7, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
These early retirees are becoming part of the American cultural landscape, and are on the fast track to becoming an archetype of the American dream. They are the Marilyn Monroe and the James Dean of the retirement world and populate our images of youth, leisure, and investment as the path to salvation. (Think of the coddled investor dropping off to sleep in his chaise lounge as the Caribbean quietly laps at the sand in the background.) They are becoming the stuff of legends, of folk tales told during breaks at work. The story goes something like this: “I heard of this guy who retired when he was 30! Can you believe it? Man, I’d like to do that.”
The rest of us are portrayed as working wannabes, the chumps left doing the necessary work of society while the smart and lucky ones soak up rays on the ski slopes.
Now, I like to dream about retirement and writing my memoirs as much as anyone, and I am not advocating a hair shirt denial of self-interest, nor am I trying to glorify the stress of making a living, but I think that there’s something flat and hollow about holding up retirement at 30 as the perfect outcome of a life well-lived. More than the early exit, it was what people did with the luxury of wealth and time that disturbed me. The consuming focus on self-gratification and fulfillment with no real regard for anything like a common good or a social responsibility embarrassed me. You’d think these people lived in a vacuum where the only thing worth doing was feeding personal whim.
The premise that we can somehow be separate from the social and natural world and that we can coast doing nothing without consequence is both fallacious and dangerous. Rather, I would hope that we would look at our lives as extensions of a vast web of interdependence and that we all have a responsibility to improve the quality of that web. This is a cultural choice we are making. I wonder if it is a good one.
Tom Volgy has a new book, Politics in the Trenches, in which he talks about a growing mistrust of social involvement, of political participation. People don’t want to serve as much as before because of a growing social stigma toward people who work in the political arena.
On a small scale, people less and less serve on PTAs or run for local office because they are perceived as liars, cheats, and parasites, when in reality, most are committed people working for the common good. He is on to something subtle and wide ranging.
Have we arrived at a point where we value more those who isolate within their own self-interest than those who opt to work and serve the common good?
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
I stood at the bus stop and watched the three lanes of passing traffic, waiting for my ride. My dad was visiting and had volunteered to pick the boys up from school. We had planned to go to an early movie, but doing this required that we cut the margin for logistical error to fractions of a minute.
They were supposed to be here by now, those three in a brown car with a bike rack on the top. I had told them where I would be waiting twenty minutes ago. There was room to pull over out of the heavy afternoon traffic, but no shade, and the sun began to bother me. It was nearly June in Tucson and the desert was heating up. At two thirty in the afternoon it must have been pushing a hundred degrees.
I read the flow of traffic like words, looking for the ones that meant something to me, trusting that my mind would ferret out the salient passage, that one line that I was looking for. The sweet, single, unique passage, a little Toyota, had to appear sometime.
“Goddammit” I muttered to myself, noticing that since my dad had been staying with me and the boys my swearing had returned to its previous frequency and rancor. My dad was full of “son-of-a-bitches,” “fuckin’” thises and “fuckin’” thats. He is a good man, but lived a hard life as a career military officer. To survive, he tapped into the power and poison of the profane. It was not his fault that I was sliding back into my rages of words but mine.
The result of several years of effort and self-searching into examining and controlling my profanity had disappeared in less than a week. “Goddammit,” I said again, this time with some real irritation. I was working myself up.
My dad and I share a deep rage at being slighted. He was a boxer and used to get into fights if he felt someone had insulted him somehow. My brother is the same way and will defend himself with force if he feels someone is assaulting his dignity. The two of them are righteous men. And I was becoming more righteous by the second as I continued to watch closely but disinterestedly the traffic passing the bus stop.
Maybe they misunderstood me and were waiting somewhere else. I had given directions to the bus stop quickly and mentioned a corner three blocks down, where they were supposed to turn. He had asked me about the street names then, when we had made our plan, with some urgency, more than I would subscribe to a simple turn. Maybe they were waiting there.
I looked at my watch. We weren’t going to make the three o’clock show and they were now twenty-five minutes late.
I decided to stay where I was because that is where I said I would be. I’m sure that my dad was staying where he was because that is where he felt he was supposed to be. I was sure he was swearing at the fuck-up, as I was.
I decided to give it five more minutes. An ambulance went by and I noticed smoke from a house fire a few blocks away. A flash of dread passed through me. What if the boys had been hurt? Surely my dad couldn’t survive another accident like the last that had left him with a shattered hip, knee, and shoulder nearly severed. I forced the thought from my mind and looked again at my watch. Time to go.
I swore and watched how the anger and irritation spread through me like a warm chemical wash. I tasted salt and dissolved metal. I rehearsed our conversation and defended myself. “I said the bus stop . . . what are you guys doing down here?” I knew that path well and moved down the sidewalk spitting fire, daring any to fuck with me. “Goddammit,” I repeated -- my mantra around which I centered my life, my way of being, my esteem.
Within two blocks I saw them coming and my dad pulled over. Sean, my seven-year-old asked “Where were you?” with a worried face. “I was waiting at the bus stop,” I answered, looking to defuse my anger, my need to make someone else wrong. My goddammits retreated behind a need to get on with things, to plan the afternoon from here, to make the best of what we had. It took a while for the poisonous invocations to pass, a moment to rekindle a reverence for for the world as it is.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
You were born with a wonderful mind, a mind with potential, with something wonderful -- an intelligence.