Peter Costa: On being retired, not tired
After 40 years and 40,000 cups of coffee, I retired last month from day-to-day journalism. Now, the first question I invariably get on meeting someone at a party or gathering is: “Do you like retirement?”
It is a loaded, almost rhetorical, question. By contrast, when I was working, people never asked: “Do you like being a journalist?” One liked one’s work. Why would one continue to do it, otherwise?
Retirement, by contrast, is seen as a dark, purgatorial place, where old people languish in the shadows until they stumble into assisted-living.
I am thinking of responding to the question of how I like retirement this way: “I hate retirement. Having no place to go, no job to do is like hurtling through space, cold and alone. The days yawn before me like a universe of dark matter. Interaction with other humans is superficial. I feel devalued by an indifferent society. When I do manage to engage someone in conversation, my opinions are immediately discounted like the faint barking from a distant dog at night.”
That will surely — don’t call me Shirley — frighten the working people in the room and send them to 1-800 help lines.
But seriously, people presume if you like your work, you would never retire, unless you had bad health.
Actually, it is too early for me to decide whether I like retirement or not. I can say I like waking up without an alarm clock, taking a walk on a whim, napping with my dog, attending events during the week and writing without daily deadlines.
Ironically, I am more physically active in retirement than when I was working. And although I am not rock climbing, parasailing or bungee jumping, I am fishing, canoeing and kayaking.
Because I have literary affectations, I am drinking more absinthe — when I can find it. Just kidding. My alcohol consumption consists of an occasional glass of cream sherry, a taste I acquired while a graduate student at Berkeley where wine from Napa Valley was quite inexpensive. I cannot imagine myself on the banned, 150-proof absinthe. I buzz at room temperature; absinthe would fry my already overactive neurons.
I am doing a few things to trick onlookers into thinking I am not retired. I wear a tie and a pressed dress shirt at evening events. (It is amazing the better service I get from wait staff when I am dressed this way.) I also do not wear jeans and a baseball cap, the official uniform of the male retiree. Instead I sport slightly ridiculous fedoras. I look like a cross between a 1930s get-me-rewrite newsman to Indiana Jones searching for the lost Ark of the Covenant.
It seems to be working. My eye surgeon says, “Oh, Peter, so you’re retired and you’re doing other things?”
That’s a clever way to put it. Doctors. No wonder they get the big bucks. I bet no one asks them: ”Do you like being a doctor?”
Peter Costa is a columnist for GateHouse Media. His latest book of humor is “Outrageous CostaLiving: Still Laughing Through Life,” which is available at amazon.com.