Friday, July 26, 2013

Billy AWOL; Bob May As Well Write Another One

I've just finished, what is it, my 10th, 12th, maybe 14th book about the life of Ernest Hemingway? They all end the same way, with him putting a double-barreled shotgun in his mouth and pulling the trigger.  It's getting depressing! (Except that this time, the writer clarifies that he actually put the barrels against his forehead, not in his mouth)

Hemingway's Boat focuses on the last 25 or so years of Hemingway's life, when he declines from virile big-game hunter to sickly, despondent old man with startling rapidity, his 38-foot fishing boat apparently his only source of solace.

Which, of course, has me thinking about retirement, as I always do when I'm down here in Florida.

Not in a depressed way.  Don't you worry about me, kid.  Just pondering options once again, and none of them involve "playing solitaire with a pearl-handled deck," as the late, great Warren Zevon once sang.  Instead, it's that conundrum of whether I want to be part of a normal, all-ages neighborhood and lifestyle, or whether there is some attraction to living primarily with other retired people, except when the grandchildren come down.  

As I wait for my children to get down here, I spend a lot of time among the retirees, watching, listening, at places like Panera (a favorite hangout) or the grocery store or the swimming pool.

The reality of retirement, which no billboard or brochure or promo wants to admit, is something Ernest Hemingway once said:  "All stories end in death, and he is no true storyteller who would keep that from you."  Retirement, for many of us, means some good, fun, exciting, free years on the front end and some tough years on the back end.  There's no way around it. Well, for all of us the back end is the same.

What I've observed this time is kind of interesting.  Given that if you live in a retirement community you're going to have a kind of revolving door of friendships--ring out the old and ring in the new--I've  often wondered how the community deals with that.  Certainly, in the 30 years my mother-in-law has owned this condominium, ALL of the people she knew when she arrived are gone, as well as most, if not all, of the second wave, and maybe even the third.  Se wasn't around much for the third wave, so it's hard to know.

But that has to be tough.  So what do you do?

The other day at a produce market. I saw what you do.  You adopt a kind of fatalistic optimism.  Now, that may be the greatest oxymoron in the history of the world, but there is something to it.  In this case, two couples were talking at the checkout, well, two women, really, since one of the men was either deaf or out of it and the other was. For whatever reason, disconnected.  But of the two women representing the two couples, they were speaking of a health reality--- test or a surgery or a meeting with a doctor, something. Ad the one woman said to the other, "Well, we'll keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best."

In the face of an inevitability, what else can you do?

And that gave me a weird kind of comfort as I waited to pay for my cucumbers.  After all, they were buying vegetables, too.  They were going home to eat, to carry on, to persevere  just like anyone else. They would eat, despite this reality.

Would it be better to live somewhere else, someplace where they would have to bury this information, where this would be inappropriate store conversation, where it wasn't a variation of what many friends are also going through?  I don't know.  But I had always thought that this fantasy life of golf games, socials by the pool, trips to restaurants and trips abroad was the pretending.  Now, I am not so sure.

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