Blair Pollock: Thinking about the R-word

September 27, 2013 

Blair Pollock

Turning 62 recently and also almost coincidentally logging in 25 years of local government employment required me to think about the R-word. And I don’t mean “recycling.”

What would retirement be like?

Our financial adviser says, “Keep working until you get the full Social Security benefit (66 in my case).” Some I know are already drawing it at 62 or 63. My retired friends seem to be having a very good time. They’re busy, in fact often busier than I am when we try to line up a get-together. Brewing beer, learning accordion, traveling, book clubbing, writing memoirs, and of course in our community, volunteering.

I continue to value working – fortunate to have meaningful work, good colleagues, a two-mile commute, a fine work environment and fair compensation. As an older friend once said, “As long as you keep wanting to put your feet on the floor each day, go to work.” And underlying the fiscal component and the desirable work life is the wording of my dad’s epitaph, taken from Rabbi Tarfon, c. 1 A.D., which reads: “Yours is not to finish the work but neither are you free to desist from it.”

What does that mean for me? Helping to keep increasing our county’s already impressive waste reduction effort until we landfill nothing? Well, how’s 10 percent? Will the “victory” that enables me to hang up my spikes be symbolized by passage of a North Carolina bottle deposit law charging 10 cents per can or bottle, like Michigan’s? And like Michigan, would we then recover more than 90 percent of the cans and bottles for recycling, coincidentally meaning (almost) no more cans and bottles littering our highways, parks and sidewalks?

Or could it simply mean that one day my job ends? Not because garbage won’t be with us forever, but rather we could decide that sending it off to a remote hole in the ground as we do now is an adequate solution and that is the new status quo.

A glance at the Social Security system gives some cold comfort about the future for those of us in mid-baby boom era. It appears from most projections that the fund won’t go negative until sometime in the 2030s. The average guesstimate is somewhere between 2033 and 2037, depending on whose forecasts you like. At that point, either benefits will reduce to 76 percent of what they are now or we will raise the Social Security tax or increase still further the full retirement age as other aging countries seem to be contemplating.

How long do I plan to live? My paternal side has tended to depart early with most of the older generation going before 60; dad reached 73 and only Aunt Norma passed the four score mark. I perhaps upped my odds by finally quitting tobacco for good six years ago. Now if I’d just lose the 27 pounds my physical therapist recommended…

Average life expectancy for U.S. males is just a shade over 76. So is it fair to work til 66 and then have “only” 10 golden years? What would I do with them? I have a head full of ideas that are (already) driving me insane – thanks Mr. Dylan – so to keep sane I’ll share a few with you.

• Documentary films I want to make on local stars including the Paperhand Puppet Intervention, Magnolia Klezmer Band, Jim Watson and the Apple Chill Cloggers. The latter are now closing in on 40 years of dancing with a whole second generation stepping up, literally including children of the first ones. I won’t tell you some of the silly and wicked adventures I’ve heard from my wife and other veterans of the clogging team from the 70s; we’ll leave that to the film.

• Starting a seasonal ice cream stand including soft-serve, in either the Joe Van Gogh store at Timberlyne or as part of Weaver Street Market in Hillsborough. It will be open only from April through September ’cause once I’m retired, I don’t want to work that hard. Ice cream cones always put a smile on people’s faces. Further, there is no soft serve locally (and I’m NOT COUNTING YOGURT!) and I refuse to drive to Smithfield for Dairy Queen.

• Creating some local calendars – I can’t tell you the themes here or the format, but I know they’ll be good and funny.

• Finally, I think sometimes of following in the footsteps of former Chapel Hill News columnist Rev. Robert Seymour and making a book of my columns. Bob published a bound volume as a fundraiser for the Inter-Faith Council (aka Homeless Shelter). I am not sure mine would sell much, even as a benefit, let alone that there are 100 “good ones.”

In fact it would likely be a very short run, but courtesy of my mom, the entire oeuvre of 19 years of collected columns now sits stuffed in two large brown envelopes at my upstairs desk, beckoning me to open them and get started on the work already.

Contact Blair Pollock at blairlpollock@gmail.com.

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