Perhaps you think of summer vacation as a respite. Not me. I see it as an opportunity—a chance to train for retirement, to prepare myself mentally and physically to be the best at doing not very much at all.
Career-wise, this summer finds me exactly halfway to the traditional age of pensions and porch-sitting. The time is right to check in and see where I stand in my pursuit of three critical retirement goals—and whether my super-lazy vacationing is helping me get there.
Let’s start with Learning How to Make a Big Deal About Things.
From what I can tell, one of the keys to a successful retirement is portraying an ordinary outing as something far more ambitious. Here’s a good example: To judge from the theatrics of my late grandfather, no civilian award bestowed by the Governor General would have been sufficient to recognize his valour and sacrifice in bringing in the mail. He’d throw those envelopes down on the kitchen table like a Plains Indian presenting a slain buffalo to the tribe. OVER TO THE WOMENFOLK—MY WORK HERE IS DONE.
A beach vacation is great training in this regard. Once you’re hunkered down in the sand, talk of driving to town for supplies acquires the kind of rhetoric usually reserved for assaulting Everest in short shorts. Heck, there was a time this past week when I went 20 minutes without a beer because I was positioned comfortably in a chair and the cooler was slightly over there. I portrayed the act of finally getting up as on par with the actions of a Greek god—and one of the good ones, too, not the god of pottery or napping.
In retirement, this skill set should translate to mall outings. “Well, I’m back and I managed to get you your bag of Kernels.”
[Sits down and patiently awaits celebratory parade.]
Second: Having Strong Opinions About Things.
I need improvement here. I don’t feel enough ways about stuff—at least, not with sufficient rage. Certainly, I’m about as far as one can get from my grandmother, whose every sentence began with a Dismissive Wave of the Hand and continued along the lines of, “Ah, those (politicians / bankers / reporters / squirrels) up there (in Ottawa / on Bay Street / on the TV / in my attic) are all the same!”
But I’m not entirely without elderly-calibre conversational skills. There’s my keen ability to observe the obvious and remark upon it. In fact, not 10 minutes ago, I said to my family: “Sure is a lot of fog out there this morning.” You know, just in case they were wondering what all that fog-like stuff was. (It was fog.)
I’ve also mastered certain non-verbal forms of communication, including the all-important getting-up-from-a-chair noise, which needs to suggest a level of exertion heretofore thought beyond the reach of mortal man. After a two-hour hike this week, I fell into the sofa for 30 minutes—then asked one of my kids to transcribe the sound I made as I got up. Here’s what he wrote: “Hmmrrrrrpphhhhaaaaahh.” If anything, he went a little light on the As.
My final retirement goal: Accepting That I Will Never Again Remember Any New Information.
I’m not happy about this (so far as I can recall, which, come to think of it, what were we talking about?) but I’m getting closer to living with the reality that my brain hasn’t retained any new facts since 2007. It’s as though my neurons got together and decided: “If we take on even one more piece of knowledge, we’re going to forget the words to Detroit Rock City. And that, my friends, is simply too high a price.”
This summer, having forgotten that I can no longer remember things, I paid actual money to purchase a book entitled Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present. At long last, my knowledge of European geopolitical dynamics would extend beyond what I learned from Risk. I was about 60 pages in when I had the following conversation with one of my boys:
What’s your book about?
(slyly consulting the cover) It’s about the history of Europe, from 1453 to the present.
What happened in 1453?
(pause) Did I mention that it’s published by the fine people at Allen Lane?
Seriously, what have you learned so far?
(long pause) I believe mention is made of Belgium.
I purposely left the book behind when we went home. At least, I think I did.
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