As my wife and I were entering a restaurant last night, an old friend and his wife were exiting. As we were exchanging pleasantries, he told me that he had retired three weeks ago. I ordered a table for four and invited them to tell me all about it. It was a story I’ve heard at least 20 times and it never gets boring for me. This story was a little bit different because he’s 5 years younger than I am and he retired from a different workplace.
My friend retired from Victoria County where he worked in maintenance for over 30 years. I’ve known him for over 15 years, but I didn’t know he was a marine combat veteran who served in Vietnam. As they were about to leave, his wife told him to tell me of the ruckus he got into with a fellow worker who was about 45 years-old. My friend was telling another worker that he was going to be OK because he had his county pension, Social Security and the VA for his medical benefits, and his wife was going to continue to work part time until she was eligible for Social Security. The coworker overheard the discussion and blurted out for all to hear “so now you’re going to become a ward of the state, and I’m going to have to pay the taxes to support you and your wife.” It wasn’t just the rudeness that angered my friend; it was because he knew the worker was putting him in with that same class of people on welfare he complains about every day. For one thing the 45 year-old never served in a military, so he can’t relate to being on call 24/7 for 4 years and that’s just a small part of it.
My wife and I talked up about the incident and the current environment that brought it on. I’ve told her that it used to be common for retirees to tease our fellow workers to keep working hard so there we could continue to benefit from their labor and not to do anything that would jeopardize our pension check. They knew they would be able to say that someday but perhaps today they are not as confident. Perhaps that traditional teasing wouldn’t be appropriate today. On the other hand, some may be trying to merge their politics to everything that surrounds them because my friend was talking to a coworker before he was rudely interrupted.
I then told my wife about an old tradition that soldiers had whenever they were going to get discharged or leave the country they were stationed in and head back home. The soldiers were called “short timers," and they flaunted it for 30 days. We had the calendars we would mark off and all of us would go and buy what was called a short timer’s stick (not to be confused with the one used by Vietnam short timers). It was just a varnished wooden stick, with a gold plated handle and tip which we shamelessly carried everywhere we went to process out. As we went to various parts of the base other soldiers would enviously nod at us and say, " don't bend over to tie your boots because I'll run into you because I only have (insert time left).” I wonder if they still do that because I always wondered why we didn’t do any work in those finally 30 days. Every day we were told to go to difference place to check out. For example, one day we would go to medical, another day to payroll and so forth, but I bet that has been computerized so today, it may just take one day to do all those activities.
My friend asked me for advice, which is natural but everyone will figure it out and fall into their own routine. Your old work friends will stop calling, and you will start living what I like to call the third and fourth phase of your life. The third phase is retirement, and the fourth phase is being a recipient of Social Security and Medicare. It’s different, and you will realize that when you get there but don’t fall for the trap believing that Social Security and Medicare won’t be there when you retire. . I heard that talk 30 years ago, but I took Social Security at age 62 with a 15% penalty and never looked back. Oh; you will have to learn about SSA part A, B & C, and if you’re like me, you will have to sit down every October and revaluate your part B portion. A word for the wise, get on Social Security as early as possible because business CEOs are trying to convince our legislators to move the retirement age and Medicare to age up to 70 (that’s three years more than what the GOP wants), so that those programs can be sustainable. Two points: CEOs normally work past the age 70 and don’t usually participant in those programs. (2) The CEOs that do will always balk when there’s talk of raising the caps…It’s OK to mention something about saving the program unless it involves them.
It used to be the retiree would get their watch and well wishes from the coworkers and life went on. I hope it continues to be that way and my friend’s incident was the rare exception rather than the rule.