Category Archives: retirement

Brain washday

When you reach a certain age, you get tons of unsolicited advice on how to make the most out of your remaining years (months? minutes?). Half the new-old-age barkers give you the pitch that these times are magical and blessed, while the other half say, “Son, you’ve got one foot under the daisies already. Better shape up quick.” Without even trying, you run into something like this item from AARP, the print version of which was headlined, “Cleanse Your Brain.”

WARNING! DISCLAIMER! The foregoing phrase should NOT in any way be taken as an instruction to do something spectacularly ill-advised involving a cordless drill, a funnel, and a bottle of Mr. Clean. (Know what “trepanning” means in this context? Don’t even look it up.)

The article is legit science about the glymphatic system, which is what the brain uses to clear out damaged protein, dirty fluids, and other waste. It got me to thinking: what if I could purge the memory bank portion of my brain? That’d free up space on the cerebral hard drive for all the Important Stuff I need to absorb and retain, especially how to stave off wrinkles and decrepitude.  After 63 years and a few odd weeks, it’s time for a super-duper spring cleaning!

But what memories would I unload? Things like algebra, sociology, the infield fly rule, sentence diagramming, medieval history, how to drive a stick shift, and the name of the person I just met are already gone. What’s left to lose?

Getting beaten up on the playground and being hopeless at sports. Trashing those memories – several school years’ worth – would do wonders for my self-esteem. Ditto all my romantic rejections from junior high onward, job flubs, bad life choices, and other sundry gaffes like busting up my fender in the car wash. No, that didn’t happen! I’d remember if I’d been that dumb!

Song lyrics. “Satisfaction,” “Purple Haze,” “Crossroads,” “I Will Follow,” and “Once in a Lifetime” can stay. I do not ever need to recall “Don’t You Want Me,” “Achy Breaky Heart,” or anything by Madonna, the Eagles, or anyone named Osmond.

Everything I ever learned about manners and etiquette. Useless in today’s world. Go to a restaurant and see how many people never look up from their phones during dinner, even when the maitre d’ politely informs them the place is about to be engulfed by a volcano.

Sports trivia (a redundant phrase anyway). The games I saw from the stands in college? I’ll keep ‘em. The name of the backup quarterback on a 3-13 NFL team, so lousy I had to get tanked every Sunday to watch them on TV? Not so much.

Old TV shows.  I remember “My Mother the Car,” “Men Behaving Badly,” and many episodes of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Why?

Certain web surfing moments.  Not that I ever actually checked out “Vixen Virgins of Vegas” and the like, but if I somehow got there by mistake, it’d be helpful to truthfully not recall it.

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A stately DISPLEASURE dome!

One of the problems of growing older is that you’re supposed to be smarter too. People think you’ve absorbed all of life’s lessons and can face any situation with Zen-like wisdom. The senior years should be rewarding, free of the challenges that trip up the younger set (which these days means anyone born after about 1970). Sorry, but what you get from being old is a bunch of new ways to find yourself saying, “Oh, for dumb.”

The other day I wound up in an urgent care clinic at the beach in Florida. Was I there because I imbibed a few dozen too many beers, wiped out on a boogie board, scorched myself while setting off fireworks, or got slapped silly by a beauty queen from Mobile? Not in this lifetime. On a warm, sunny morning, I sat in a waiting room trying not to feel extremely foolish because part of a hearing aid was stuck in my ear.

The piece in question is the dome, a little rubber cap that covers the receiver, which slips into your ear canal. It looks like a UFO but as you can see, it’s a lot smaller.

Hearing aid dome

Rogue dome

I suddenly realized I couldn’t actually hear very well in my left ear even with the aid in place, and when I took it out the dome was missing. Cue the sinking feeling. So I headed off to the clinic, where a nurse practitioner with a blessedly steady hand reached in with alligator forceps and extracted the thing.

The sympathetic doctor said he’d taken out three or four others. I still felt like a putz, yutz, mope, and dope because after all, this is the kind of thing little kids do, lodging various objects in inappropriate places.

At least I’m not this guy, who had a toy traffic cone stuck in his lung for 40 years (or the guy mentioned in comments on the article, who had a light bulb stuck in a different spot). Nor am I one of those preening peacocks of both sexes who try to look and act like they’re 20 when they’re closing in on their second century (see Hefner, Hugh, the late).

Truth be told, even when I was younger and hopefully studlier, I never got close enough to any beauty queens to get slapped anyway. What if I somehow stockpiled my karmic klutziness for my later years? Maybe I should guzzle a couple of cases and launch a whole arsenal of fireworks while riding a boogie board! Or maybe just go look at the beach again. Yeah, that sounds good.

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Scammer grammar hammer

I’ve found my calling. Since I retired a couple of years back, I’ve been floundering in the shallows of unfulfillment, trying to find purpose in geezerhood. And the market for over-60 male porn stars is a lot smaller than I hoped.

But now I’ve found a gig I can do brilliantly. It’ll never dry up and will leave me rollin’ in simoleons. The job? Teaching English to scammers! These hardworking capitalists have been around since the days of dial-up, but sadly, their grasp of the lingo is still a tad sketchy. Here, verbatim, is the email that plotzed into my inbox this very morning:

Subject: Due our security concern We need verified your payment activity

Dear (email address),
We need to lock your apple account for the following reason(s):

05 April 2017: We want to check your account surely not log-in with other device.
06 April 2017: Your account has been make a payment $116 using apple pay with a Payment Code: APP-X42-C22-P0.
10 April 2017: Due our security concern we need to block your account access until this issued has been resolved , we will waiting for 1 week or your account has been disabled permanently.

  1. LOGIN TO YOUR ACCOUNT
  2. Confirm Your identity and our system will replace with your new information.
  3. Your will be redirected and your account ready to use

It’s pretty clear why this message won’t work. First rule: send it to somebody who actually HAS an “apple” account. Besides, “We want to check your account surely not log-in with other device” is a dead giveaway. Haven’t they ever seen “Airplane?” Don’t call me Shirley! Here’s the same message with a few edits from your faithful protector of Good English:

Subject: Who the hell are you?

Dear gluten-brain:

We sure hope it wasn’t you who rented “Naughty Nymphos of North Korea” and “Pammy Does Pyongyang” the other day. We’re freezing your account colder than a Siberian squirrel’s nuts until you can verify yourself. Send us a photo of yourself (FULLY CLOTHED) and answer this security question: What’s the maiden name of your mother’s Uncle Sorghum’s fourth ex-wife? (You can also send a voice recording of yourself singing, “I Went Back with My Fourth Wife for the Third Time and Gave Her a Second Chance to Make a First-Class Fool Out of Me.”)

And from now on, be more careful about what you say online. You might get elected governor of Alabama.

Hello, it’s me. Seriously.

Hi, this is Dave. It’s really me.

No kidding. Honestly, I’m Dave. I’m the real deal, the true article, born smack in the middle of the Boom and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan (where the city motto is, “Nobody Knows What the Heck It Means Anymore, But Yeah, There’s Still a Kalamazoo”).

I’m Dave, the guy with the deflating bed, aka Uncle Grumpy the grammar grouch, chronicler of old-age indignities, frog attacks, and sex advice for other geezers. Yes, that Dave! Check my photos and fingerprints if you’re not convinced.

Why am I trying to convince you that I’m myself? The other day, I got an emailed receipt and survey from a hotel where I never stayed. A few frantic phone calls revealed that somebody checked in using my name and my old Atlanta address, which were exposed in the big hack of federal employee data a couple of years ago. In other words, my identity has been stolen.

We’re not on the hook for any money, and so far haven’t uncovered any other scams. But it’s disturbing to know there’s a fake me out there. I also have to wonder what kind of putz would heist a normal, boring identity like mine. Why couldn’t he steal from somebody interesting, like Ted Cruz?

Until now, I hadn’t been affected by the breach and was hoping, apparently naively, to remain unscathed. But I can’t sit around worrying either.

If you’re a victim of identity theft or are afraid you might be, the federal government’s resource page is a good place to start. Meanwhile, if you run into somebody claiming to be David Swan, here’s how to tell the Dave from the doppelganger.

  1. If he has hair, it ain’t me, babe.
  2. He should know all kinds of obscure 60s and 70s music references (like the one in item #1). Ask him to name the duo that inflicted “In The Year 2525” on us, or the title of Norman Greenbaum’s follow-up to “Spirit In The Sky.” (Hint: It involves food.*)
  3. Sing the praises of Ohio State and/or Michigan State football. If you don’t hear “Go Blue!” within about 15 seconds, call the gendarmes!
  4. If he uses “barbecue” as a verb, he’s counterfeit. This is something I learned from my Southern transplantation. You might also ask him about his favorite meat and three.
  5. Get him to reminisce about being a cabdriver or an all-night DJ on an elevator-music radio station.
  6. If you’re riding in his car and he has no sense of direction, is the total antithesis of GPS and generally couldn’t find a giraffe in a broom closet, that’s me!

*The tune was “Canned Ham.” This has nothing to do with Canned Heat, a great blues band of the same era. See what I mean about those music references?

Holiday greetings for 2016

Author’s note: My wife and I relocated in 2016 and we do own an old sword. Most of the rest can be taken with a few grains of salt.

***********

Hello all! This won’t be a typical holiday letter because we sure haven’t had a typical year! As you know – if you read my earlier message, and we so hope you did, otherwise why am I WASTING MY PRECIOUS TIME and few remaining brain cells writing this stupid – sorry, we’re still a wee bit touchy after all we’ve been through!

What I started to say was that we’ve had a big, joyous experience in our lives: moving and downsizing! We sold our old house and are settled in a lovely, smaller one in a new city. We just couldn’t feel more sublime! But of course, it’s been challenging too, at times, in a few small ways. Rather than bore you with details – and there were a ton of details, plus about EIGHT TONS OF JUNK THAT NEARLY FRICKIN’ KILLED US (oops, sorry again) – we’re focusing on a few special moments in our year, our journey of change and discovery.

We started with a moving sale – a wonderful way to clear out clutter and meet people! Until one of our neighbors saw the antique political buttons we were selling and compared Trump to Spiro Agnew, whereupon another neighbor tried to run him through with my grandfather’s ceremonial Masonic sword! Our discovery? Nobody wants used sweaters with fresh bloodstains on them, even if they’re really pretty small. But we persevered!

Next we had to move out, find a new house, and move in there. But there was no despair, just more discoveries along the road! For example, we found that after all the work, travel, decisions, and slightly stressful days, we can fall asleep any time in any old place, including the line at Starbucks. And the dentist’s chair! And any hotel in the world, except that one with gunshots in the parking lot at 2:00 a.m!

Another time, I discovered some old muscle relaxants when I was sore from moving boxes and since they’d “expired” I took six all at once. I’m told I staggered into the living room wearing wifey’s pink thong (and nothing else), said “Haaar oooom glub shrog iffshaam zowk,” then walked right through a (closed) screen door and plunged into the pool! Thank goodness our brilliant real estate agent, who saw the whole thing, was an ex-lifeguard! Of course, we had to pay for her ruined dress and shoes but we persevered once more! Hooah!

It’s been hard – why can’t we stop saying that? – but speaking of muscles, we discovered some we didn’t even know we had. We’re a real Power Couple! My back is so much stronger – well, I don’t usually use those words; it’s actually “tighter than a cable on the Bay Bridge.” A little massage would fix that IF we can find the damn massage book or EVER FIND ANYTHING IN THAT WRETCHED PILE OF BOXES AND – but we digress, again!

Do come see us for the holidays and remember, if we fall asleep, it’s not the company!

The night the bed fell: 21st century update

If you’re about my age* and had good English teachers in high school, you might have been assigned to read a classic James Thurber piece called, “The Night the Bed Fell.” I won’t even try to recount this delightfully loony story, but I will shamelessly appropriate the title for my own true (!) tale of woe.

The background: My wife and I had to have the floors in our new house redone before we could bring in our furniture. In the meantime, we could either stay in a hotel or camp out in the house, using a cheap futon for a couch and sleeping on a brand-new, high-tech inflatable bed.

I won’t tell you where we bought the thing, except that it’s a gigundous corporation whose name rhymes with “Paul Blart.” However, it’s light-years ahead of those old air mattresses people used to use for camping, rock festivals, etc. It has a frame that keeps the mattress off the floor, a pump that starts automatically if the air gets low, and the whole kit & caboodle** zips up in a wheeled bag you can roll around. (IF you’ve got a strong back, because it weighs approximately as much as a boxcar full of lead.)

One night we climbed into bed after a long day of meeting with contractors, shopping for appliances, hanging light fixtures, and the like. This gets tiring, especially for us non-spring chickens, so we were definitely looking forward to a good night’s rest.

But after a few minutes I noticed the mattress felt softer than before. Instead of being on it, I seemed to be sinking into it, rocking and swaying as though it were a waterbed. (If you remember those, you’re no tenderfoot either.)

Neither of us spoke right away, not wanting to admit the ugly truth: Our 21st-century rest and relaxation station was leaking like an email server, and with us still aboard it was falling like a rogue soufflé. We tried pumping it up, but before long were sagging toward the floorboards again. By then it was nearly 11 p.m.

Put yourself in our state of mind: tired, sweaty, mad, frustrated, wanting nothing more than to sleep and having no bed. We also were too beat to go to a motel, so we dragged ourselves and our mattress pads into the den and switched the futon from couch to bed mode. We were so worn out that we slept reasonably well, though the futon was as wide as an ironing board and not as soft.

Needless to say, we got a refund for this amazing contrivance and won’t buy another one. I won’t take the comfort of a real, well-made, mattress-and-box spring bed for granted either.

_______________

*Classified information, though I admit I’m old enough to know the words to “Land of a Thousand  Dances,” which are: “Na na na na na, na na na na na na na na na, na na na na.”
**The lot, pack, or crowd. “Canoodle” is quite different! Send any post-millennial types (i.e., kids, children, young ‘uns, squirts, sprouts etc) out of the room before you look it up.

The armies of life

It’s nearly Labor Day and the dragonflies are back, zipping over the deck against a bright blue sky. Somewhere south in the Gulf of Mexico is a storm that might (1) give us some rain and wind, (2) miss us altogether, or (3) come ashore as a full-on hurricane that would send us running for the hills.

This kind of uncertainty isn’t fun, but it’s a pretty good metaphor for the life my wife and I have been leading for months now. Fifteen years after moving from Washington, DC to Atlanta, we decided to move again: to sell our house in the Atlanta burbs, buy a smaller one in Birmingham, Alabama, my wife’s hometown, and divide our time between there and the Florida panhandle where we are now.

Sounds like a snap, right? Seniors embracing change like youngsters, living life to the fullest,  being mobile and flexible, and all those other well-known ‘Murican buzzwords (sorry, I mean “values”).

Let me be very clear: I’m not complaining. I know we’re lucky we can manage this financially, and a lot of people would love to have our problems. But this much change takes effort, will, creative thinking, optimism, and plenty of energy, both physical and emotional. And we’re 15 years older than last time. It’s tough.

We started by clearing out our house and giving away many things we’d no longer need. Then we staged the house for sale, making it look like a model home where no one actually lived. I missed my big, comfy recliner in the den, which we turned into a Potemkin dining room. Then we moved out – which, due to mistakes and neglect by the people we hired to assist us, turned into a horrible last-minute scramble. We felt like we were being evicted from our longtime, much-loved home.

Next came the trying process of searching in a different city for a house that retains the good qualities of the old one – location, location, location, trees in the yard, and a living room suited for music. We found a place but are far from settled.

The new home and new city are good things. They’re things we wanted. Why does it all feel so hard, like perpetual PTSD?

A phrase keeps running through my mind, from Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” his elegy for Lincoln: “The living remain’d and suffer’d, the mother suffer’d, And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer’d, And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.”

I don’t know how much weight we’ve lifted, how many miles we’ve driven, or how many hotels we’ve slept in, usually badly. It’s not over. I still sometimes think I just can’t do this for one more day. It’s still tough.

What’s kept us going and will get us through to the end is each other. If you have any sense, you don’t go swimming in the ocean alone or head into the desert without loads of water, so you don’t attempt something physically and psychically earthshaking without a strong partner.

For 16 years and counting, we’ve been together until death do us part. Backaches, U-Haul trucks, hot and cold running contractors, and Matterhorns of boxes will not us part. Our possessions are scattered across three states, and our emotions at any given time are less predictable than that storm, but our hearts are still as one.

There’ll be a house with music and friends again. It’s not even officially ours yet but it already has love.