Thursday, March 9, 2023

Pretty Pictures, Part 1: The Real Story

My younger friends keep asking me, What’s it like to be retired?” Isn’t it wonderful? I can’t wait.

I know what they’re thinking: the same thing I used to think. Whenever I picked up a magazine or travel catalog, I’d see pictures of retirees enjoying the good life. 

Beautiful people. A woman in a straw hat, lounging around a pool. Couples with gray hair and white shorts, watching dolphins swim alongside their boat. Cocktails and banquets on a cruise ship.

When I used to see those pictures, I was full of zeal! I couldn’t wait!

I wish I could tell you retirement is like that. But no. Those pictures are a hoax! For the first couple of years after I stopped working, I traveled a bit. I even lived on a sailboat for a while. I set out to live the fantasy of sipping cocktails on the deck, gazing at the sunset.

But it wasn’t like that. It was hard work to maintain a boat. The leaks. The mold. The breakdowns. I certainly never wore white shorts! 

In fact, it turns out that a lot of retirement has been hard work. In particular, I've struggled with three obstacles to enjoying those glamorous activities in the photos.

1) First, the longer I’m retired, the longer the list gets of people I have to go visit regularly. An opportunity to socialize and have fun? No. Here’s the list of people I visit:

-physical therapist





-bill collector

Does that sound like fun? No. But that’s what aging is like!

Most people who are retired will confirm that in the golden years, body building gives way to body deterioratingYeah, I know what you’re thinking: what about Jane Fonda? She looks great at age 84

Well, I think those photos are a hoaxtoo. Or she had a lot of plastic surgery. I sure don’t look like Jane Fonda. I don’t feel like Jane Fonda. 

I feel like more Methuselah. Ready for a long, long nap.

2) Second, the older I get, the older my house gets. Just like me, the plumbing has developed leaks. The floor is sticky. The refrigerator is overdue for replacement. It’s a constant battle to keep up with cleaning and repairs.

This winter, we had contractors replace the mortar on a brick wall. They hammered and drilled for days. Charged us $12,000. And the plumber came by to fixing a leaky pipe. For six hours of work, he charged $1,200! 

That’s where the money goes. Not to Hilton or Marriott or Club Med.

3) Third, now that I’m staying home more, I've been noticing the critters that share the house. Every evening while I’m sitting in the living room, a little mouse, sometimes accompanied by his brother or sister, wanders in, looking for a handout.

Maybe they find my house attractive because I don’t keep it as clean as I used to. I admit I’m too tired to kneel down and mop the floor. And too stiff to get back up.

I spend hours filling holes in the cornersscrubbing kitchen counters, and repackaging food into glass jars. And now, there’s ANOTHER person I see regularly: the exterminator.

This is where the time goes in retirement.

I’m still looking for that glamorous retirement that I expected--the ones my younger friends fantasize about.

I scan the catalogs with the pictures of beautiful people, laughing and smiling, and I wonder, where did I go wrong? Why I am still only fantasizing about lounging around the pool in a straw hat

Then I remember – those pictures are a hoax. Very few people actually get to visit castles on the Rhine on a $10,000 Viking River Cruise.

Most of us are at home, cleaning and repairing, or waiting in line at the doctor’s office.

So when my friends ask me, “What’s it like to be retired?” I’m honest. I tell them, it’s not like those beautiful pictures! Believe me, you can wait!


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