Waiting for the Saucer

It’s after midnight but they still haven’t arrived. I’m getting sleepy but am determined to stay awake until the saucer lands. They cautioned me it won’t make a sound, but I might feel a rush of wind and smell ozone. The ship itself won’t be terribly bright, just a burnt orange glow. If you’re looking right at it you’d see it, but then why would you be looking in my yard in the middle of the night?

So far I’m the only one in my family who takes this seriously. I’ve been packed and ready to go for days now. My wife is unsympathetic. The kids can’t get bothered. Fine, let them stay. I’ve been ready for a change ever since I retired five years ago. There’s nothing I want here. Nothing at all.

The other retired guys all meet for coffee at the local supermarket coffee shop at six a.m. If they’d open the doors at five half of them would be there at that time. They talk about politics and sports. Their wives take a several table, but there aren’t as many of them as there are of us. I don’t know what the women talk about. Probably us.

Center of the Universe

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Sometimes I catch myself thinking that my life, my plans, my grand enterprises, my little schemes are more important than those of the people around me. The woman washing her face in a  commercial on TV in this coffee shop in which I am sitting is a common fool, but I am an undiscovered genius.

 

If only there were justice in this world, I would be the one on TV! Somebody would be paying me big bucks to peck away on my laptop.

 

Then, in saner moments, I realize that there is beauty all around me. That other people are often more diligent and hard-working than I, and quite often more physically beautiful. The fact that I’m creeping up on age 70 allows me this new glimpse of humility.

 

What if I’ve already lost the race for money, prestige and power? Would admitting that be so bad? Would I become crestfallen, humiliated, utterly defeated? Probably not. Sure, I can still entertain reasonable hopes for a future, but it’s time to let the other fantasies go.

A Blank Slate

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No Plan, Still Time Passes

It occurs to me that living in Chiang Mai, Thailand hasn’t really hampered my ability to be creatively productive. If I’m not writing or performing to the best of my ability, I can’t blame it on location. If I were hiding in a furnished room in Los Angeles, hunched over my laptop and drinking coffee from a paper cup (not Starbucks, too expensive) chances are my phone wouldn’t be ringing with offers from publishers, studios, or agents.
At the age of sixty-seven, I probably wouldn’t be going to parties a lot, either. The nightclub crowd would be unaware of my existence. Maybe I could pass myself off as Harry Dean Stanton’s younger brother, or Tommy Lee Jones’ cousin. A-list geezers.

No, I can’t blame Thailand for whatever difficulties I face as I trudge the lonely trail of senescence. Well, actually, there are a lot of us on that trail, only some are using walkers, others four-pointed canes, and the rest of us are hobbling with an uneven gait.

But again, what’s the alternative? The good doctors here are as good as they are in the States, at least as good at the doctors who will accept Medicare patients, and since the prices for medical intervention here are about ten times lower than in the States, that would about equal my deductible if I chose to return home to use the medical policy I paid for over a span of forty five years. That one, the one I don’t get to use over here.

Oh sure, the weather is too hot for me most of the year. Even most Thai people would agree with that. From November to January it gets cool enough up here in the north of Thailand so that a Westerner might consider putting on a light wrap after dark. That’s when the Thais think it’s time to unpack some serious gloves and fur-lined parkas.

I’m sure Lake Como or Martha’s Vineyard would be more to my taste. I hear Norway is spectacular from June to August. All of that has nothing to do with me now, nor will it ever unless Fate has some amazing twists and turns in store for me.

But none of that matters, because I’m happy with my current station. After a week in Krabi, at the beach, I’m home again with my piano and my Chiang Mai routine. I don’t do a lot, my days are pretty free, and I make sure to rest plenty after the smallest of exertions. You can never be too relaxed in retirement.

In Krabi we had comfortable hotel rooms for around sixteen and seventeen dollars, the flight there and back came to eighty five dollars each. The only thing there that significantly more expensive than Chiang Mai was massage, which was double the price, so we mostly avoided it.

Tomorrow I’ll go to my swimming pool and do a kilometer. Takes me half an hour. I’ll be the only person in the water, an Olympic-sized fifty meter pool. Then I’ll take a nap in the afternoon, because even though a kilometer is some swimmer’s idea of a mere warm up, to me it’s the whole enchilada.

Even though my e-mail provider Microsoft Outlook would like me to believe otherwise by sending me my calendar for the day, which contains events and tasks apparently set by others, some of whom I don’t even know, I think I have the day off. I do know for certain that I didn’t create these “events” or “tasks” they insist are real and fixed. As far as I can see, my days are pretty much a blank slate. Most of the time, I have not consented to be anywhere or to do anything.

Today my virtual assistant informs me that I have three events, but it soothingly assures me “you don’t have any tasks for today.” Free to come and go as I please, I intend to hop on my motor scooter or bicycle and zip around town, or drive into the nearby mountains. My photo blog shows lots of pictures of hills and trees. They all look the same, but I keep taking more.

I will also find time to play Handel on my electronic keyboard.

The interesting and encouraging thing about practicing a musical instrument is that you get better even if you take a week off. In that time when you weren’t practicing, you still improve. If you take more than a week off, that effect begins to reverse itself. It is, however, counter-intuitive that progress can be made by not practicing. I guess the chemical bath in which my brain cells seep gets work done even when I’m not on board with that.

When you make a deliberate attempt to stop doing, you find that your body is doing many things for you. I was already impressed by the fact that my heart continues to beat without my permissions, and my lungs go about their breathing business without my direction or urging, but this brain percolating thing is really something. It does so without being plugged into the Internet or a power source. It’s half-an-hour before dawn and it’s still working fine, which means it’s not even solar-powered. Who thought this one up? Give that guy a prize!

Does It Matter What We Believe?

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As American anti-intellectualism rears is Trumpish head, more and more Americans are inclined to believe that they have a God-given, unalienable right to believe whatever they want, facts be damned. Most Americans don’t believe in evolution. After all, it’s only a theory, right? Theories are espoused by pointy-headed professors, the same ones who write books that nobody wants to read.

 

Most people would agree that belief in nonsense can have serious and dire consequences, but you’d have to assure them first that you’re not trying to define what’s nonsense. We all pretty much believe that actions speak louder than words, and because beliefs often determine actions, they might be important, too, but most important of all is my freedom to believe whatever I choose, because no pointy-headed professor is going to take away my right to delusion.

 

German science was the most advanced in the world until they let a charismatic fellow with a taste for amphetamines and a penchant to letting spirits guide him almost destroy that country and half the world along with it. Stalin put great faith in his favorite Soviet biologist Lysenko, who quickly took Soviet biology into the dark ages, from which it is still struggling to recover.

 

If you’re walking down the wrong path and the nagging suspicion that is so turns into a humbling admission that not only are you going to have to turn around and walk all the way back to where you made a wrong turn, and added to that the horrifying possibility that even then you might not even know the right path when you come across it, you’re ready to choke on humble pie. You’re preparing to make an extremely difficult admission. It’s almost easier to continue deluding yourself than it is to face facts and clean up the mess. At least in the short run, denying reality seems preferable to an open admission of error.

 

In rejecting the Scientific Method, we open the door to all sorts of dangers, but advertisers know that playing upon emotion is far more lucrative than appealing to reason. Young people are encouraged to believe that their shopping preferences are creative statements of their personalities. Your cell phone case says a lot about you!

 

Those averse to rigorous thought take solace in knowing that they are not alone, that most people think like and act like they do. It turns out this is why American education falls far short of most other advanced economies. We simply don’t value activities that are difficult or might be perceived as boring. We like sports. We like fun. We like expressing ourselves. As a talking Barbie doll once exclaimed after a button on her backside was pushed, “Math is hard!”

 

ENJOY IT WHILE YOU CAN

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If there were ever a time to take action, it’s now. The time for normal score-keeping has elapsed, and we are now into Sudden Death Playoff. The next team to score wins the game. This may happen very soon, or after a while, but it will happen. The game will end.

If you’re a baby boomer who has always wanted to try something completely different once you’ve retired, then you have a limited amount of time to make that choice. Not choosing is a choice.

I’m not talking about going on vacation, but rather about relocating. Moving somewhere far away from your comfort zone in order to experience much more of the world before you die. You are going to die, right? I’m not suggesting you dwell on that fact, but being in denial about it isn’t going to get you where you want to go either.

Indeed, unless one is already content where one is, how does one choose and then get where one wants to go?

Through trial and error.

Chances are it will take some time and money, but that will be time and money well spent in the long run if you find someplace truly exceptional. Wouldn’t it be great to find a spot where you’d be glad to spend the rest of your days? More expensive than anything is wandering aimlessly, vaguely discontented and convinced there’s somewhere better just around the next bend in the road. Sure no place is perfect, but only you can determine what you want. A few years back I tried internet dating. I described myself as someone who enjoyed travel. I kept meeting women whose idea of travel meant taking cruises. I thought to myself, that would be absolute hell for me, everything I don’t like distilled, concentrated and pre-packaged.

So only your idea of fun will apply to you. That’s why you can’t easily and readily search it out without actually going places and finding what you don’t like. After one of my many trips to Nicaragua, I was back in the states playing Scrabble with friends, and telling stories about Central America, when a woman we were playing with asked me in all sincerity, “where do you go to the bathroom down there?” At first I thought she was joking, but then I realized from my descriptions of Nicaragua, it sounded like a place she wouldn’t be able to relax and go to the bathroom.

She wouldn’t have liked it there. She also had a miniature poodle that wouldn’t have liked it any better than she.

MY STORY

By the time I was in my mid-fifties, I realized that this was probably as good as it was going to be “career-wise.” I wasn’t ever going to be “discovered.” My hidden genius would never be revealed. Whatever good fortune had already come my way was maybe all I was due. OK, I could handle that. Now what?

So I started asking myself questions. If this wasn’t what I wanted, what did I want? If Iowa wasn’t where I wanted to end my days, where would I rather be?

I began by letting Internet travel sites show me cheap fares to exotic places. The first ticket I bought was to Nicaragua.

The flight from Des Moines to Managua was highly affordable and mercifully short. Compared to the flights I would end up taking to Asia, flying straight south four thousand miles from the Midwest was a walk in the park. I had traveled enough to realize that the capital cities which house airports are never the place you want to be, so I took a cab to the small city nearest city to the airport. This strategy has served me many time in many places.

I liked Nicaragua a lot. Affordable and interesting, not the least bit ruined by tourism, I found the people to be sweet-natured. Apart from Managua, it was safe, and although the developed areas were nothing to write home about, the natural beauty was often astounding, I ended up going there twelve more times before I was introduced to Thailand.

Thailand and Nicaragua have a lot in common, climate and vegetation-wise. They’re the kind of places where banana trees grow likes weeds in vacant lots. There are, of course, big differences. Nicaragua has volcanoes. Thailand has Thai massage. Nicaraguans eat red beans and rice, Thais eat the most amazing variety of foods I’ve ever sampled.

So I chose Thailand, where I live now. In the interim, I lived for a while in Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. I like those places, too. I also visited Mexico, Peru and Ecuador, which I concluded were nice places to visit, but the place I chose to call home was and is Thailand.

It’s not perfect, and I have no intention of persuading anyone to move here. The main reason I’m here is because it’s much much much much more affordable than the United States, and that’s important to me. It might not be important to you. But there is probably someplace on this planet that trips your triggers, and unless you’re already there, it’s time to get shaking.

Places I could also dig living: the West Coast of Ireland, Bergen, Norway, the mountains of southern Chile and Argentina, Colombia, New Zealand, Tasmania, St. Petersburg, Russia but I’d have to do some serious planning to move there and since I’m not that motivated, I’ll probably just look at pictures. It’s amazing how many people with great cameras have recently visited these places. The Boomers are everywhere, snapping away with their top of the line Sony mirror-less cameras. Google images has it all, millions and millions of high-resolution, color photos. For free.

They’re the people who never prospered enough to get a real retirement account. Many of us are artists. Some of us got MFA degrees (Master of Fine Arts) which we knew at the time would not entitle us to tenure-track teaching jobs, but we didn’t care, because we thought we were going to “make it” as artists.

Few artists “make it,” at least financially. We are the MFA Boat People who have cast our fate to the winds and emigrated to foreign shores hoping for comfort mixed with adventure. We don’t want to be on Food Stamps back in the States.

Most of we MFA Boat People are working on a novel. All of us are writing blogs. Every person who has exiled himself from his home country seems to be writing a travel blog. I’m not sure if anyone is reading these blogs, but they’re being written. Google’s WordPress seems to host most of them. There’s no pressure to make money, because it’s free.

I am writing five different blogs, but for three of them I pay eighteen dollars a year so that I can own the domain. Those are geezersabroad.com, retirecheaply.com and dancoffeypost.com

I keep waiting for someone to contact me and offer me thousands of dollars for one of my web domains, but the longer I write these blogs, the less likely that is to happen. I attempt to drive traffic to the sites by linking to my Facebook account, but no matter how hard I flog my poor Facebook Friends, readership never soars above fifty souls. Google will not be sending me big money to put ads on my blogs.

But I write anyway. What else am I going to do?