I'm taking a mental health day today. After dropping off Seamus at day care, I felt compelled to see water. After foolishly entertaining the idea that I could drive to Duluth and back, I opted instead to drive around Lakes Calhoun and Harriet. I've ended up at the Dunn Brothers in Linden Hills, where I'm going to become one with this soft leather couch, drink full-city-roast coffee until I get the shakes, listen to whatever musical selections their eclectic sound system sends my way (currently "Pass the Dutchie" by Musical Youth) and try to finally finish the journal of our trip to Mexico.
It's hard to gauge who exactly hangs out at a Linden Hills coffee shop on a summer Thursday. There might be people like me who are taking the day off or telecommuting. The occasional shriek gives away the stay-at-home mom. The intense typing of the woman by the window makes me think she's looking for work.
But when I first walked in, my eyes went right to a center table. It was the happiest table in the place. Four retirees, male and female. They weren't looking sternly into laptops. They weren't sitting along the window with iPod feeding tubes stuck in their ears. They were just drinking coffee, talking and laughing.
I want to be retired. Being retired means that even though your ultimate fate is right around the corner, you can actually determine your minute-to-minute fate like never before. Right now, most of my day is determined by other people. The window from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. is pretty much Freedom Time, and right now, Freedom seems to want to read Christopher Hitchens, eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and watch Jon Stewart.
The problem with wanting to be retired is that people who have the mentality of wanting to be retired are precisely the people who probably won't be able to--whereas the people who could retire, who should retire and have more than the financial means to retire, never retire, because they're addicted to whatever inspired them to acquire their retirement-enabling wealth in the first place.
The key to a good retirement is slowing down just the right amount. Right now, life is too chaotic. (Thus, the mental health day.) But I've heard and experienced too many examples of the other extreme. And there are few things more annoying than fixating on the mundane.
"Hmmm... postman hasn't come yet. Usually here by 2:30. It's almost 2:37. You don't suppose something happened to him, do you?"
I had a glimpse of retirement once. I was 22. I was semi-employed in Fredonia, New York. And I lived in a Lake Eerie trailer park. All I had to do was try to make it in my progressive alternative band and date a college junior. Sounds romantic now, but it was horribly depressing. Even though the only job I had was making donuts part-time at the Upper Crust Bakehouse, I couldn't bring myself to make the 40-minute drive to Buffalo to look for a better job ("I wonder what the Galleria Cinnabon is paying these days...").
I would wake up with plenty of ambition, but then the day would go roughly like this:
Hey, it's time for breakfast!
Breakfast is over, but I should be an informed citizen and read the paper. Let's learn more about Buffalo.
Hey, there's still a half a pot of coffee sitting their undrunk!
Hmmm... time to play some guitar. I'm here for music, after all. I should be writing a song. And what about drums? I want to teach myself how to play drums.
Ooops, lunchtime! What can I mix with the Raamen Noodles today? Yum.
Hey, aren't we practicing in three hours? That's not enough time to drive to Buffalo and back. Nap time!
That was a distant early warning. When I retire, I won't let it happen again. I'll be more mature and self-aware, I promise. I might still try to learn how to play drums, but I won't have the Raamen. I'll be productive, I swear. So... can I retire now?
(Oh my God, they're playing "Hungry Like the Wolf." I used to hate this song. Why is it suddenly sounding more melodic?)