Saturday, May 27, 2006

63 x 3

May 25 was my friend Clay's 72nd birthday. I'd love to send him a card or wish him happy birthday, but he died nine years ago at age 63.

Clay died of liver cancer, and I wrote an obituary that still exists somewhere on the Web. He was a very interesting person. He could be cantankerous and cranky, but talented, too.

Clay didn't have a regular job like most of us do. He had been a freelance journalist for many years since quitting his job as a college professor sometime in the late 1960s. In the last years of his life Clay made his living as a doorman in a nightclub. His needs were modest, but he had no health insurance, no pension, no retirement beyond his eventual Social Security and Medicare, which he didn't live long enough to see.

This week I went to a retirement party for a lady I've worked with for at least 25 years. She is now 63, and has congestive heart failure, which makes it necessary for her to leave. When I saw her she looked ashen and unwell. She was standing next to her husband, a handsome man in his early 60s who looked very healthy. I felt bad, knowing she may not get to enjoy much of her retirement, or much more with her husband.

The next day there was another retirement party for yet another lady I've worked with for years. Attending was a man who had retired a couple of years ago, who was one of our Accounting Department directors. He has terminal lung cancer. He told us he has his affairs in order, his family is taken care of, and he wasn't worried about dying. I thought, "What an attitude!" I'd be kicking, screaming and cursing the gods for my bad luck if I were in his shoes.

I can see why his affairs would be in order, because he was a guy who couldn't stand for things not to be in order. He was the first person in whom I recognized the condition OCD, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I remember him locking his office door, rattling the doorknob for at least 20 seconds, walking away, then walking back to rattle the doorknob again. This happened every day. Now that he's dying his attention to detail for his family's sake is probably a case of OCD coming in handy.

Did I mention this man is also 63? Three people, one dead, two dying, age 63. Did I also mention that once upon a time I thought 63 seemed like a "ripe old age." Yeah, ripe! And I'm getting riper every day.

Signs of aging are with me constantly. Besides the steady drumbeat from the parade of colleagues and friends who are going through life's final stages, I have my own body to give me evidence. Don't make me go into all of the things that are wrong with me, but at least a couple more problems pop up every year.

Unlike Clay, I have medical insurance, so I go to my doctor once a year and get checked. That doesn't prevent the problem, though, because my two fellow employees I just mentioned both have medical insurance, too, and they're dying anyway. Despite my usual paranoia, I'm so far so good…no cancer, no heart disease. At least not that I know of (gulp).

I'm not sure what else I could say about this whole thing…it's been a weird week for me. On Monday my boss came into my work area and handed me a letter from the Superintendent of Schools, and an engraved wooden box with an engraved ballpoint pen in recognition of my 30 years with the school district.

It all makes me even less sure of my own retirement, what I want or what I need to do. For many years I thought, "When I get my 30 I'm outta here!" but my accident in December and the inactivity while I was recuperating made me realize how much I like going to schools, and being around people who make my job worthwhile.

The old joke is about retiring after a lifetime of hard work and then dying a week later, but I know at least one person to whom that happened. Once you get to a certain age you have a couple of choices: Retire now, hope you have enough years left to enjoy life; or stay on the job, and risk being carried out in a box.

Maybe I could take the little engraved box my boss handed me and put it aside so my wife can will have a container for my ashes.

Ciao for now, El Postino

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