When I first posted the simple poem below it was immediately mis-interpreted. Within minutes I began seeing congratulatory comments about retiring. I was quickly reminded of how careful we must be with our words. I am not retiring. I don't want to retire. I do not like the word retire. In fact my plan is to work myself into the ground at a ripe old age. This piece in fact, is about fighting back. It's about standing your ground and yelling at the top of your lungs when you feel someone pushing you from behind.
One of the centerpieces of my book shelf is, "Working," a book written by author Studs Terkel in 1974. "Working" is a collection of interviews with the working men and women of our country. Armed with a reel-to-reel tape recorder he would interview people from all walks of life trying to reveal how, "ordinary people" feel about their working lives. Since he's not here to interview me I guess I'll speak my piece on my own.
Ironically 1974 is the year my wife and I were married and the year I began my "working career." The days of spending my summer job money on dirt bikes and Converse All-Stars was over. Raising a family with a high school education involves dedication and commitment. When you add in two sons it involves long hours and seven day work weeks; none of which I would trade for the world.
Work to me is a privilege. There are millions of people in thousands of countries all over the world, including our own, who would give their right arm for a steady job. I've always had one or two. I see that as a gift, not something I want to toss to the curb. Retirement is not entitlement. To do something so hard for so long, so you don't have to do something, doesn’t work in my head. If you've spent a lifetime doing something you didn't enjoy I feel sorry for you. I have spent a lifetime collecting side splitting work anecdotes, all of which I cherish like a wad of $100 bills. The more I write this piece the more passionate I become about it. Hundreds and hundreds of unforgettable characters have crossed my path during my forty-three years of working. I can't express the joy I get out of knowing I carry a sliver of memory about all of them with me every day.
Who built the seven towers of Thebes?
The books are filled with the names of kings.
Was it kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?…
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go?…
I’ve always considered myself the most average man in America. Average height, average intelligence, average life. I see that as the greatest gift you could imagine. If I was above average I would have more to worry about losing. If I was below average I would always be searching for something greater. I feel like I enjoy the best of both worlds. I can strive for more but if I am happy living in the middle of the field why not enjoy the view in all four directions. Work keeps me honest. It helps me better appreciate what I have, while showing more compassion for those who are simply trying to poke their heads above water. Unless I’m broken I need a reason to set my alarm every night. I kid about being a shit-fixer at work. There is an army of us. If I didn’t have shit to fix I’d probably go stark raving mad. Yes, there’s plenty of shit fixing to do at home but the pay is much lower. And, sometimes at home I break more shit than I fix.
I hope this short disclaimer helped to clear up any misunderstanding about me retiring. It’s not happening. When I’m ready I’ll be sure to let someone know.
Right now, I just want to know what time to set my alarm for?
By John R. Greenwood
feeling out of place can happen to anyone
it creeps up on you without warning
a fiberglass cow loses its way
a barn, a pasture, a warehouse loading dock
take her to the fair and celebrity kicks in
I, on the other hand, lost at sea
retirement, a word I hate, stalks me
relevancy, a word I chase, eludes me
the next phase is a mine-field
avoidance prolongs the implosion
the scent of impending doom
spreads a damp fog above
my scrappiness, like a Trump lie
doubles down, ready to start kicking and screaming