The ‘R’ Word Part 3: Unwritten Rules


A certain ethos develops among ‘retiree’s’ (how I hate that word) once they are in the full swing of the program; an underground culture, if you will, a club mentality. Although there is no secret handshake or clever password, we can generally spot each other from a distance. We are discreet people, and a nod or brief eye contact is enough to establish a connection. This is frequently seen while waiting in line at the pharmacy.

Here are a few or the guidelines;

  • It is crucial to have a place to sit comfortably for long periods of time. A couch, a recliner, a rocking chair, in summer a chaise lounge. It doesn’t have to be exclusive to you, but that certainly helps. I have what is now called ‘dad’s chair’. When someone else sits in it, the universe seems out of sync, and I fear calamity.
  • Grunting is acceptable when either sitting down or standing up. However, asking for help to get out of a chair is considered bad manners.
  • Certain articles of clothing are eschewed (starting to like that word) and considered ignoble for someone who no longer has anyone to impress. Of course, one still has to maintain his or her dignity; shave and shower, brush teeth, gargle, and get an occasional haircut. But, except for those unavoidable formal occasions, ties are not to be worn. Or high heels, or shoes with hard soles. Or pants with creases. Top buttons are to be left open. A rebellious faction among ‘retirees’ (there it is again) often wear pants that don’t meet their shoe tops, and have food stains down their shirt front. They are shunned and whispered about. In fact, there is currently a movement to begin an education program, or at the very least a handbook, for those misguided souls.
  • Hats should be worn whenever possible. Tops and bottoms do not have to match; stripes and checks are an acceptable combination.
  • Some phrases become increasingly useful, for example, “Is there a senior citizen discount?” and “Can I get some more decaf, please?” or my personal favorite, “Does anyone here know how to turn this on?”
  • The longer you have been retired, the bigger your eyeglass frames can be.
  • Lottery tickets have become the drug of choice.
  • Alarm clocks are considered tools of the devil and should be exorcised in a communal ritual involving ball-peen hammers and lighter fluid

Just because it fits the mood, here is a great old song,  by Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong.



How To Read A Book In The Age Of Information

There was a time when reading a book was a simple four step process; put on your glasses, turn on a light, open the book to where you left off, and begin. But reading in the twenty-first century, like taxes and television, has gotten complicated.

The first thing you have to do is get a computer. That way, whenever you see a French word, or a Latin phrase that the author hasn’t bothered to translate, you can look it up.

For example, I came across the word ‘lagniappe’ the other day. I was sure that a lagniappe was a breed of South American monkey that has been taught to play canasta, but no.   A lagniappe is “a small gift given to a customer by a merchant at the time of purchase”. Who knew?

We can all figure out that ‘veni, vidi, vici’ is Caesar’s way of saying “I came, I saw, I conquered”. But, try this one on for size; “Caesar si viveret, ad remum dareris.” It means,
‘If Caesar were alive, you would be chained to an oar.’   Certainly a handy phrase to memorize, in any language.

The second thing is to make sure that you have your Wikipedia handy so that if a person is mentioned that you’re not familiar with you can look him or her up, see what he or she looks like, how old he or she is, and who he or she married/ divorced/ lived with or fought with. A reference to Harold Ross (turns out he was the original editor of The New Yorker Magazine, led me to a reference about Robert Benchley which led me to a quote by Dorothy Parker. Dorothy, a dog lover, once named her dog Woodrow Wilson, “because he was so full of shit”. Clearly, Dorothy was not a supporter of Woodrow.

Third, when reading a book, always make sure to check IMdB to see if there was a movie made out of it, and who starred. And also if there was a remake. The Great Gatsby has been made six times, and was a success each time. (Don’t give me Leonard DiCaprio. Robert Redford was the quintessential Jay Gatsby). Apropos of nothing, the author of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, once observed, “The victor belongs to the spoils.”   To this day, no one really knows what F. Scott meant.

I sometimes flout convention by putting the computer away and reverting to the tried and true four-step process. And it works well for me. As Groucho Marx once said: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

Imaginary Incorriigibles


In Merrimac New Hampshire, a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Punxsutawney Phil, the ground hog. Phil, it is alleged, said that winter would last for six more weeks, but never said a word about all the snow that has fallen on the northeast since his much heralded guest star appearance. People are incensed about his lack of candor, and consider him a public nuisance.

Charges would include prognosticating without a license and illegal possession of a snout.

In all fairness though, Phil is not the only non-human who should be held responsible for his actions.

How about arresting the Road Runner for speeding? Maybe someone should look carefully at Wile E. Coyote’s purchase of all that high tech equipment from Acme Corporation. Isn’t there a five day waiting period to buy bombs and rocket-powered roller skates?

How about arresting Yosemite Sam for firing his guns within city limits. How about Bugs Bunny for leaving rabbit holes all over the place?

Does Elmer Fudd even have a hunting license?

Could Daffy Duck be indicted under a public decency statues for spitting all over people when he says “sufferin’ succotash’? Could Lucy be sued for pulling the football away from Charlie Brown every single time?   (I can almost see poor Charlie in traction, with his big round head sticking out of the bed sheets and the nurse saying “Whah, whah”).

The Grinch; could he be jailed for breaking and entering?

Rocky the Flying Squirrel—failure to file a flight plan.

Yogi Bear — theft on Federal property

Boris and Natasha –espionage.

Popeye and Bluto – public brawling.

This runs deep, very deep. I think it is time we stopped coddling these creatures, just because they don’t really exist.

The ‘R’ Word, Part 2

retirement alcohol

Ending something of long standing is not only difficult, it can be odd. I suppose divorce can be like that. Maybe selling a house. The best metaphors I can come up with are pretty banal. It’s a bit like driving into a fog. You can’t see clearly where you are going, but you are very conscious of where you have been. Or, a hiking metaphor; you climb to the top of a ridge to see what is on the other side, and in that instant before you get to the top, your focus is almost completely on where you have been. The other side is rich with possibilities, enticing, but uncertain. Perhaps a little scary. You find yourself focused on the trees and rocks and gullies that you have just crossed over.

For the past few days I have been trekking through that routine and comfortable landscape. I have been focusing on the places and things and people I have been familiar with for years. I find myself thinking, ‘Well, I won’t be here again.’ Or, ‘Well, I won’t be doing this again.’ Or, ‘Well, I won’t be seeing him again.’

People usually operate in the present, thinking of what they are doing, or will soon be doing, or just did. Mostly present, with a smidge of past and future. And that is where, for me, things are odd right now. I am still functioning in the present, largely on autopilot, because great heaping gobs of past stuff is swirling into my present. ‘Future’ seems totally out of the picture for the moment, which leaves me a bit off balance. Odd.

It’s not exactly nostalgia, although there is certainly an element of that sprinkled in. There is probably a technical term for this, something from the field of psychology. Something Teutonic, I’m sure, like ‘weltschmertz’ or ‘schadenfreud’. But I think nostalgia, inaccurate as it may be, will just have to do.

It isn’t a bad feeling, in fact it is somewhat comforting.

There is no lesson here. No wisdom I can pass on. No way to make this clearer or more sensible to anyone else. It’s just part of the subtle changes that we all go through in the trip from wherever we are from to where ever we will be.

Things That Go Beep In The Night

Inanimate objects have developed insidious methods of getting my attention.  I know that ‘development’ is no­­t an attribute historically ascribed to inanimate objects, and that worries me.  Lately, it seems, everything beeps at me; phones, computers, my car, smoke alarms, even my oven.  They all have crucial, urgent messages that simply have to be attended to, post haste, pronto, tout de suite.  If I don’t listen, I’m in danger of ruining dinner, burning down the house, driving with a door open, losing my document, and missing a call from the attorney of my long lost uncle who has left me his Olympic Luge bobblehead collection.  ­­

They all seem to ‘know’, what I should know, and that’s where it gets creepy.  Epistemology, the science of knowledge that goes back to ancient Greece, concerns itself with ‘what do we know and how to we know it’? The ‘what’ and the ‘how’ are challenging enough.  But one of the things that unnerve modern life is a change in the perception of the concept of ‘we’.  ‘We’ used to be limited to Homo Sapiens, but seems to be expanding to include Hardware Sapiens.

My GPS ‘knows’ when to make that left turn to get to my cousin’s barbecue.  My clocks ‘know’ when to gain an hour in the spring and lose an hour in the fall.  The motion sensor in the family room ‘knows’ when to turn the lights on.  The problem is that the GPS doesn’t ‘know’ that I hate my cousin and don’t want to go to his barbecue where his dog will hump my leg, the burgers will be burned, and his children will confirm the value of family planning.

The clocks don’t ‘know’ that I have put in a lot of overtime lately, and the thought of one hour’s less sleep is as welcome as Christmas carols in November.

The motion sensor doesn’t ‘know’ that there is a load of laundry to be done, a pile of bills to be paid, and the remnants of a pizza dinner to be cleaned up, all of which I would rather not see.

I suppose we can assume that they ‘know’ some things, but not others.  Nor do they seem to understand the meaning of the phrase “Shut! Up! Now!” regardless of how shrill and desperate the tone.

They also do not seem to have any sense of time, even the clocks.  Actually, especially the clocks, which tend to beep, buzz and vibrate mostly in the wee small hours of the morning.  Since I am my family’s designated device whacker, it is my job to find whatever it is that is trying to communicate, and stop it.  I have learned to wear moccasins to bed, to protect my toes when stumbling around in the dark, and also to keep a ball peen hammer nearby for obvious reasons.  The moccasins also come in handy when walking across shards of shattered electronics.

In unguarded moments I pine for those days when new technology meant a more efficient plow, or moveable type.

Those things knew their place.

Blue Dog

I saw as story recently about a painting stolen from a gallery in the French Quarter. The painting was called “Wendy and Me” and was one of a long series of ‘blue dog’ paintings. It is a wedding portrait, of sorts.  The bride is blonde and attractive, dressed in traditional white, but the groom is a blue dog in a tuxedo. Yes, the groom is a blue dog in a tuxedo.

Here it is:

blue dog

That’s a blue dog in a tuxedo, alright. No way around it.

This painting, which was eventually recovered, is worth $250,000.00.

I know I am repeating myself a lot, but I am gobsmacked. A painting of a blue dog in a tuxedo is worth $250,000. American dollars. I am no art critic, but I have seen paintings just as interesting hanging next to art rooms in middle schools. My taste in art is obviously pedestrian and undernourished, but “Wendy and Me” just seems mediocre, at best.  I’m sure there are subtle qualities multiplying its value that completely escape me.  I give full respect to the artist, George Rodrique, but really. Huh?  And he has done blue dogs for years.  I can see painting a blue dog, maybe a couple.  But dude, move on.

I will leave it to others to trek the byzantine paths of modern art for some explanation of all of this, my interests lie elsewhere. I want to know how I can get in on the scheme. How can I make, or paint, or write something that, at least on the surface, seems so uninspired, and yet rakes in embarrassing gobs of money.

There must be a secret.  If I could learn that secret, I swear I would not abuse it.  I would make a small pile of money (well, not too small), and then disappear like a thief in the night.  The only evidence of my complicity would be an occasional postcard from a warm place near the beach.

News Item: Televisions Sold For Drugs!

There it is.  Proof positive that television is a dangerous drug.  Soon after this story aired, an undercover operative for LAME (Local Agency Messing with Everybody) sold illegal televisions to a video pusher on the mean streets of downtown Buttermilk, Kansas.

The television components were known to have been grown on the southern slopes of a small valley in Peru, and smuggled into the U.S. in barrels of chili.  It is well known to the underworld that component-sniffing dogs are thrown off the scent by chili.  From the port of entry, San Diego, they went by barge to Tucson, Arizona, by FTD to Bismark, North Dakota, and then by Goodyear Blimp to the Bronx, New York where the components were assembled in a three-room apartment with no hot water and a broken doorbell.  LAME was tipped off to these TV’s by an informant who was promised a six-month subscription to Direct TV.  The skell in question, his name is being withheld as a material witness, drooled when he learned that the Oprah Winfrey Network would be part of his entertainment package.  Rather than simply make an arrest and confiscation, LAME chose to use the illegally grown TV’s in a sting operation.  They were overnighted by FedEx to the LAME headquarters in Buttermilk, and an agent was chosen to make the sale to a known video pusher.  The agent was wearing a wire, but next to the wire was a hidden microphone, and the following conversation was recorded.

LAME: I got a van full of ‘em, all the best quality.  All primo stuff.  Your clientele are sure to be pleased.

Known Video Pusher:  Better be.  My clientele are getting really frantic, man.  This town dried up a few months ago, and all they can get is QVC and TV Land.  This burg is gonna explode, something don’t happen soon.

LAME:  Well, I got what you need.  27-inch flat screens, I’m talking 1024 by 768 pixels.

KVP:  Got anything bigger?  Anything HDTV?  Plasma?

LAME:  Are you kidding me?  Feds are cracking down hard on that, man.  You couldn’t find one within a thousand miles of Buttermilk.

KVP:  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Damn feds.  I’m just a businessman, trying to keep my customers satisfied.

LAME:  Well, these babies will satisfy.  They’re Peruvian.  Grown just outside of Maccu Piccu.  The best, you know?  The best.

KVP:  Peruvian TV’s, huh?  Man, I heard that one before.  Let me test the merchandise. (Licks one of the TV’s).  Oh, man that is spicy hot!

LAME.  Of course it’s hot.  That’s the chili they were shipped in.

KVP (Fanning his tongue):  Wew, yeh me ee how ey wor.

LAME:  What?  Oh, you want to see how they work (turns on one of the TV’s).  See how quickly it comes on?  See those vibrant colors?  I told you, man.  Primo stuff.

KVP:  eah, bu wha ca ou ge?  Wha ay uns?

LAME:  Huh?  What the… Oh. What stations can I get.  Well, watch, and I’ll just flip through a few.  All the major networks, ESPN, Turner Classic, SyFy, you name it, this baby can go get it.

KVP:  Will you throw in the remotes?  And double ‘A’ batteries?

LAME:  Wow, bro.  You drive a hard bargain, but okay.  It’s a deal.

KVP:  Put your hands in the air!  You’re under arrest!

LAME (simulaneously):  Put your hands in the air!  You’re under arrest!

KVP: You’re under arrest!  I’m WACD! (Western Alliance for Contraband Detail)

LAME: No, you’re under arrest! I’m LAME!

KVP/WACD:  Oh, man.  I’ve been following this shipment since Bismark.

LAME:  Well, we’ve been working it since the Bronx.  Oh man what a mess.

KVP/WACD:  Well, I guess there’s nothing we can do now, except wait for our backup.

LAME:  Well, mine won’t be here for another half hour or so. Wanna go outside and shoot some hoops?  Maybe hit some fungoes?

KVP/ WACD:  Um, well, I don’t…. no.  Not really.  But I have another idea.  Let’s shoot some TV’s.   What do you say?

LAME:  Really?  Shoot some TV’s?

KVP/WACD:  Yeah.  We choose a show or a station that is especially obnoxious, and just, you know, blast it.  It’ll be fun.

LAME:  Well, I always did want to shoot American Idol.

KVP/WACD:  I’m gonna do one of those Lifetime Network movies.  Doesn’t matter which one, they’re all the same.

A series of gunshots, followed by exploding glass, follows.

LAME:  Wow.  Cool.

KVP/WACD:  Yeah.  Cool.