By Frederick L. Wilson
As I entered the store, the man at the counter drew my immediate attention. My “re-dar,” that uncanny capacity of one retiree to sense the presence of another, had been activated. Dress in a baggy hoody, loose-fit jean and sandals with white socks, he was carefully tucki9ng $10 worth of lottery tickets into a well-worn plastic sleeve as he waited to pay for the items spread out before him: a Coors tall-boy, a Dove bar and a Car & Driver magazine.
It was 8:45 on a weekday morning and after a stop at the movie-vending machine in front of the store, he’d be all set until at least noon. His Fidelity “green line” had led him straight to the 7-11 and his own little pot of gold.
Works for him, perhaps, but if you are retired and your wife is not, it is the kind of scene you don’t want her to witness. Our wives suspect that we are all that guy.
No doubt you view your recent retirement with a certain sense of entitlement. You put in your time. You persevered. Blood, sweat and tears for 30-odd years. You’ve earned it, by God! And as you bid your still-working wife a good day from your favorite chair, newspaper in one hand and coffee in the other, you may imagine she is regarding you with deep appreciation for a job well-done.
“The old work-horse finally enjoying his bucket of oats; good for him,” you’re thinking she’s thinking. You are probably wrong.
Chances are her thrill over your new status was gone shortly after the retirement party ended. She is now looking at the husband who has been trudging off to support the family for decades, suddenly…released! Off the hook! Inert! It’s as if the contract has suddenly been breeched and she is left to do the trudging for you both. She is anxious and a bit unmoored by your lack of productivity. Even as she tells family and friends how happy she is that you could retire, an unarticulated resentment begins to simmer.
What are you going to do today?” she asks before leaving the house, in a voice that strains toward cheeriness. You have options, after all, whereas she does not. Her choices are restricted by the daily grind, while you have the day free of any particular dictate or direction, like a teenager on summer vacation.
She can’t help but seek ways to restore the balance; avenues by which you can become useful once again. And so, as she surveys the house, the yard, she sees everywhere areas of potential improvement and maintenance – remedies, if you will, for your awkward stasis.
A strategy is therefore required, a campaign to calm the anxieties of your mate while promoting an image of yourself as a still-contributing adult. Perception, as they say, is everything.
— First, and most obvious, do not sleep in. The sight of you in the bed as she is preparing to grind out another day only reinforces and exacerbates her growing perception of you as a worthless lay-about. Make it your practice to be up slightly ahead of her, purpose in your step, with an air of incipient busy-ness. (You’ve got the rest of the day to catch a nap, after all.)
— Make unprompted utterance to no one in particular, such as, “Seems like I’m busier now than when I was working! Go figure.” Or, “How did I ever work and get all these other things taken care of? I swear!”
— Arrange any errands to be run so that you are returning home 30 minutes after she does. This will belie the impression you’re just hanging around the house all day.
— The answering machine in problematic, as it can be an unhelpful historical record of your day. Be sure to delete any references to tee-times, poker dates, bicycle rides, etc.
— Leave the mail in the box for your wife to retrieve. Hopefully this will convey the impression you were just to darn busy to get to it.
— To achieve maximum impact from whatever tasks you do accomplish, leave evidence of any work done in plain view; window cleaner and scouring powder containers on the kitchen table, for instance or a bucket of mop water in the bathroom doorway.
— Ditto yard work. Cans with green waste can be placed to resemble a slalom course from her car to the house; rakes, hoes, etc. in the driveway. One these days make vague complaints about your back and the stoically shake it off, as you rub a spot above your hip. “Nothing a couple of Ibuprofen won’t help, I’m sure.”
— Have sticky notes posted throughout the house referencing the many activities which will surely consume your day. These should be ambitious-sounding but vague in scope and detail, i.e., “Conduct safety survey, interior house,” “Peruse and evaluate appliance warranties,” “Reassess need for extensive yard-work” or “Follow up on investment opportunities.”
— If you have grandchildren, by all mans play that card. It is the ace in your deck. Nothing softens her heart (and your image) like attention given to the grandkids. And how hard is a quick trip for frozen yogurt or an afternoon matinee, for goodness sake?
Good luck, gentlemen. As for myself, I have a to-do list longer than Shaquille O’Neal’s arm. It will certainly need to be prioritized very soon. First, though, I’ve got to meet a buddy of mine down at 7-11.
Frederick L. Wilson is a longtime Encinitas resident and freelance writer making retirement work for him.