Malaise and Mayonnaise — One Month Post-retirement
The “Happy Retirement” mylar balloons have finally deflated and straggle on the carpet, the hoopla marking the end of my 40-year journalism career is muted now. Good-byes have been said, hugs and tears exchanged and dozens of “thank you” notes written, even with my broken right arm, now healed enough to be supported in a brace. But, there’s never enough “thank you” in our world and there’s plenty of trouble to complain about.
I’m not good at transitions, hate change. I’m a mule — sleek and strong, with a big, beautiful rump, yes, but a mule just the same — an old gal who loves her harness, the plow and the hard work.
Retiring wasn’t a sudden decision. Nope. I read everything I could on the subject, planned, plotted and visualized the next phase of my life. Expected the best, but found the approach I’ve used all my life is the only one I know. Basically, if I’m not suffering, I’m not happy. Unwittingly, I turned my first month of freedom from the work-a-day world into a big mess. How big? Well —
My 14-year-old granddaughter came to visit for a month from Wisconsin. I picked her up at the airport in San Francisco the day after I retired. Her father, my son, came along and took her back to his house in Los Angeles. Five days later I drove down from Sacramento to pick her up. I had plans to see some sights on the way back home. We stopped at Mission Santa Barbara, had lunch in the Danish-style village of Solvang.
My 17-year-old car blew a radiator hose after pulling over Cuesta Grade, coming out of San Luis Obispo. The 7% grade is along El Camino Real, the historic road connecting California’s missions all the way to Sonoma.
So, while other retirees were rejuvenating in a swanky spa in Calistoga, I was sweating triple digit temperatures at Motel 6 in Atascadero, a farming town of 30,000. The overflowing pool sent water coursing through the parking lot, forming white caps as it reached the down slope. The guests were well drillers, fiber optic cable installers, truckers and homeless families given vouchers for overnight stays to get them out of the heat.
I met Larry. He was wearing a rakish blue bandana and hospital pajamas. His skin was the color and texture of waxed paper, his flesh barely concealed his knobby joints, but his eyes sparkled with illicit merriment, revealed him as a raconteur. He sat in a wheelchair holding a Gideon bible on his lap, asked me to tell him the story from Genesis of Joseph and his brothers’ betrayal. With Larry fact checking me, I pieced the tale together sitting in the early morning sun.
Car fixed, two days behind schedule, we drove Highway 41 — the James Dean Memorial Highway — where at the junction with Highway 46, the iconic actor died in a horrific crash. It’s no man’s land out there, scorched hills rolling away in all directions.
I had oil, water and an air mattress I planned to use for a lean-to shade if we broke down on a day when temps topped 113 F. We pushed the car as hard as we dared to get home and packed for five days at Lake Tahoe, where months before I’d reserved a vacation house that sleeps 10, planning a family celebration in honor of my blessed retirement.
My friend kindly loaned me her new car for the run through the mountains to the lake since my Mountaineer has become suspect. I picked up the keys to the house prepared to party. We unloaded and I went to make coffee. The coffeemaker had moldy grounds in the basket, no carafe to catch the brew. I used a beer stein, mopping overflow as it brewed. The place was hot, 86 when we arrived above 90 by late afternoon. I switched on the AC, adjusted the dials. No help. I tried the fan over the stove, no go. I flipped on the light for the loft, nothing. The overhead fan she was busted.
Then the bears arrived, a sow with two cubs. The mama sniffed the car with the fast-food wrappers on the front seat and the sunroof open. I charged out to shoo them away and the cubs shot up the pine tree beside the house. The sow snarled and sidled off. My granddaughter freaked because she thought I would be attacked.
Eventually my family arrived. The handyman came with a new coffeemaker and rotating fans, but could not improve the green images on the big screen TV. The fake Christmas tree in the corner added a festive touch in July. The children played with broken toys, we worked a couple of jigsaw puzzles with missing pieces. After dinner I hit the garbage disposal and rotten food flew out of the sink, the smell so bad I retched. I removed a mutilated sponge with serving tongs. The handyman came back. The kids picked up cigarette butts in the yard for fun.
Rounding the corner on my street after my Lake Tahoe adventure, I found five-gallon buckets had been tossed in my side yard, paint and oil all over the ground, fence, plants and sidewalk. The kindly police officer I spoke to said, “Lady, use common sense. If it’s in your yard, it’s your problem. Take the stuff to the hazardous waste dump out on Bradshaw Road.”
A friend emailed me a New York Times personal essay titled “I’m too old for this.” Author Dominique Browning concluded her piece about being 60-plus with the observation: “At least once a week I encounter a situation that in the old (young) days would have knocked me to my knees or otherwise spun my life off center. Now I can spot trouble 10 feet away (believe me, this is a big improvement), and I can say to myself: Too old for this. I spare myself a great deal of suffering, and as we all know, there is plenty of that to be had without looking for more.”
I’m not sure if Browning’s mantra would have helped me during my first month of retirement, but agree there’s plenty of trouble going around without looking for it. Sometimes I feel like the past honored queen of Job’s Daughters, a woman tested along with her father by the Almighty, but they were ever faithful. Wish Motel 6 Larry was here to quiz me so I can keep my stories straight while undergoing tests of Bibical proportions.
P.S. The vacation rental agency sent a letter of apology for the inconvenience and offered a 15% discount off the rent for a future stay. The hazardous waste is secured and it will be hauled to the dump in a week or so.